Unbound, p.1

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UnBound



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UnBound


  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  UnSchooled

  Unfinished Symphony

  UnDevoured

  Chapter 1: Seventeen

  Chapter 2: Eight

  Chapter 3: Seventeen

  Chapter 4: Eleven

  Chapter 5: Seventeen

  Chapter 6: Thirteen

  Chapter 7: Seventeen

  Chapter 8: Thirteen

  Chapter 9: Seventeen

  Chapter 10: Thirteen

  Chapter 11: Seventeen

  UnClean

  Chapter 1: Jobe

  Chapter 2: Heath

  Chapter 3: Anissa

  Chapter 4: Jobe

  Chapter 5: Anissa

  Chapter 6: Heath

  Chapter 7: Anissa

  Chapter 8: Sebastian

  Chapter 9: Blast

  Chapter 10: Jobe

  Chapter 11: Anissa

  UnStrung

  Chapter 1: Lev

  Chapter 2: Wil

  Chapter 3: Lev

  Chapter 4: Wil

  Chapter 5: Lev

  Chapter 6: Wil

  Chapter 7: Lev

  Chapter 8: Wil

  Chapter 9: Lev

  Chapter 10: Wil

  Chapter 11: Una

  Unnatural Selection

  Chapter 1: Colton

  Chapter 2: Kunal

  Chapter 3: Colton

  Chapter 4: Kunal

  Chapter 5: Colton

  Chapter 6: Kunal

  Chapter 7: Colton

  Chapter 8: Kunal

  Chapter 9: Colton

  Chapter 10: Kunal

  Chapter 11: Colton

  Chapter 12: Kunal

  Chapter 13: Colton

  Chapter 14: Sonthi

  Chapter 15: Colton

  UnConfirmed

  UnTithed

  Chapter 1: Miracolina

  Chapter 2: Bryce

  Chapter 3: Miracolina

  Chapter 4: Bryce

  Chapter 5: Miracolina

  Chapter 6: Bryce

  Chapter 7: Miracolina

  Rewinds

  Chapter 1: 00039

  Chapter 2: Cam

  Chapter 3: 00039

  Chapter 4: Cam

  Chapter 5: Keaton

  Chapter 6: Cam

  Chapter 7: Keaton

  Chapter 8: Cam

  Chapter 9: Keliana

  Chapter 10: Keaton

  Chapter 11: Cam

  Chapter 12: Keaton

  Chapter 13: Cam

  Chapter 14: Dirk

  Chapter 15: Keaton

  Chapter 16: Cam

  Unknown Quantity

  Chapter 1: Argent

  Chapter 2: Divan

  Chapter 3: Argent

  Chapter 4: Divan

  Chapter 5: Argent

  Chapter 6: Malik

  Chapter 7: Divan

  Chapter 8: Argent

  Chapter 9: Dagmara

  Chapter 10: Argent

  About Neal Shusterman

  For Steve Bocian,

  who was there when I first began telling stories,

  and left us too soon

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  There are so many people to thank for the creation of UnBound, it’s hard to know where to begin! Actually that’s not true, because it all begins with my editor, David Gale, and assistant editor, Liz Kossnar. As always, their guidance through the writing and rewriting process is invaluable. Everyone at Simon & Schuster has been, and continues to be amazingly supportive: Justin Chanda, Jon Anderson, Anne Zafian, Katy Hershberger, Michelle Leo, Candace Greene, Chrissy Noh, Krista Vossen, and Katrina Groover, to name just a few.

  A heartfelt thanks to my collaborators—about half the stories in UnBound were collaborations, and it has been a joy working with all you! Michelle Knowlden, who co-wrote UnStrung, Unfinished Symphony, and UnTithed; Terry Black, who conceived of, and co-wrote UnClean. My son Brendan Shusterman, who conceived of, and co-wrote Unnatural Selection with me; and my son Jarrod Shusterman, who basically did all the heavy-lifting in UnDevoured.

  Thanks to Barb Sobel and Jennifer Widmer, my assistants, who keep life flowing around me rather than drowning me when I need time to write (which is always!) And Matt Lurie, who has been tireless in updating my website, putting together my newsletter, and keeping my social media presence alive.

  Thanks to my book agent, Andrea Brown; my foreign rights agent, Taryn Fagerness, my entertainment industry agents, Steve Fisher and Debbie Deuble-Hill at APA; my manager, Trevor Engelson; and my contract attorneys, Shep Rosenman, Lee Rosenbaum, and Gia Paladino.

  At the writing of this, Unwind is moving toward being made as a feature film, and I’d like to thank everyone involved, including Roger and Gala Avary, Julian Stone, Catherine Kimmel, Charlotte Stout, Marc Benardout, and Faber Dewar, as well as Robert Kulzer, Martin Moszkowicz, and everyone at Constantin Films.

  And of course this ten-year journey through the Unwind world never would have happened had it not been for the passion and support of the fans! This book is my gift to all of you!

  UnSchooled

  The schoolboy bursts through the door, the first one out of the building when the bell rings. He is expected to be at home fifteen minutes after school lets out. He’s not going home.

  As he races through the streets, signs of the Heartland War are all around him. Burned-out cars. Rubble from blasted clinics. Crosses in the ground marking spots where soldiers and civilians on either side died fighting for their cause. This is nothing new. It’s the world he knows, the world in which he grew up. He and his friends played in the burned-out cars when they were little. They played Lifers and Choicers with plastic guns and toy grenades, never caring which side of the game they were on, as long as they were on the same side as their best friends.

  But those childhood days are gone. Things are much more serious for him now.

  He turns down a side street that’s infested with pigeons by day and rats by night, crossing an invisible line that everyone knows even without being able to see it. It’s the line that marks the border beyond which law and reason cease to exist. It’s called the wild zone, and every city and town has one. No one who values their property or their lives will venture there. Police have more important things to deal with, and not even the warring militias will go there anymore. The Choice Army blames all the wild zones on the Life Brigade, and vice versa. Easier to point fingers than actually do something about them.

  But for the schoolboy this place and the people holed up there have a certain allure that he cannot explain. Certainly not to his parents. Whenever he’s late from school, he always has an excuse they’ll believe. If they knew where he really goes on those days, he can’t even imagine what they’d do to him.

  The buildings around him are mostly condemned. Angry spray-painted politics shout out from the bullet-marred bricks, and the windows are boarded over or just left broken.

  In a narrow alley he pushes open a side door that has only one hinge to keep it upright and steps inside. Immediately he’s grabbed by two teens waiting there. They push him hard against the wall—hard enough to bruise, but that’s okay. He knows the drill. He knows why they have to do this. They can’t be seen as weak. Even by him. Because there are other feral gangs that would use that weakness against them.

  “Why you always comin’ here, Schoolie?” one of his assailants asks. “Don’t you got better things to do?”

  “I’m here because I wanna be.”

  “Yeah,” says the other one. “And that’s all you are. A wannabe.” Then, gripping his arms, they lead him deeper into the building. It used to be a theater, but the rusted seats are all stacked in the corner. The old carpet is ripped up and gathered into piles that the theater’s new residents use as bed
s. The place is scattered with knickknacks and bits of scavenged civilization, the way a bird might feather its nest with scraps of paper woven into the twigs. The theater is the living space for about forty feral teens. They lounge on scavenged furniture; they laugh; they fight. They live. It’s a very different kind of living than the “schoolie,” as they call him, is used to. His life has no excitement. No passion. No adrenaline. His life is dull and in ordered control.

  They bring him to Alph. The others don’t know the kid’s real name. He’s just Alph, as in Alpha. He’s the leader of this band of ferals. The schoolie, however, knows his real name, back from the days when they would play in the war-torn streets. The kid is a year older, but he always protected the younger ones. Now that he’s feral, he does the same, on a different scale. Alph is a key member of what the media likes to call the Terror Generation. He’s got a scar on his face from a feral flash riot that gives him character and makes his smile impressively twisted. He’s everything the schoolboy is not.

  Right now, however, Alph isn’t being much of a terror. He’s being fawned over by a pretty, if somewhat filthy, feral girl. He doesn’t seem happy to be interrupted.

  “Schoolie, how many times do I gotta tell you not to come here? One of these days the Juvies’ll follow you, we’ll all be screwed, and it’ll be your fault.”

  “Nah, the Juvies don’t care—they’re too busy chasing down ferals outside of the wild zone to care about the ones in it. And anyway, I’m stealth. I’m too smart to be followed.”

  “So what are you wasting my time with today?” Alph asks, getting right to the point.

  The schoolie takes off his backpack and pulls out a brown paper lunch bag, but there’s no lunch in it. In fact, it jangles. He hands it to Alph, who looks at him dubiously, then dumps out the contents on a dusty table beside him. Other kids ooh and aah at the glittering pile of jewelry, but Alph stays silent.

  “It’s my mom’s,” the schoolie tells him. “She doesn’t think I know the combination to the safe, but I do. I took just enough so that she won’t notice it’s gone for a while. You can fence it long before then.”

  One of the others laughs—a buff kid named Raf, who could have been military if he hadn’t gone feral. “He’s got guts, that’s for sure.”

  But Alph isn’t impressed. “It doesn’t take guts to steal from your own mother.” Then he looks the schoolie in the eye. “Actually, it’s pretty pathetic.”

  The schoolie feels heat coming to his face. He doesn’t know why he should care what some feral kid says to him, but he does.

  “You’re not gonna take it?” he asks.

  Alph shrugs. “Of course I’m gonna take it. But it doesn’t make you any less pathetic, Schoolie.”

  “I have a name.”

  “Yeah, I know,” Alph says. “It’s a sad little name. Wish I could forget it.”

  “I was named after my grandfather. He was a war hero.” Although for the life of him, he can’t remember which war.

  Alph smiles. “Somehow I find it hard to imagine a war hero named Jasper.”

  At the mention of his name, other kids snicker.

  “My friends call me Jazz. But you don’t remember that, do you?”

  Alph shifts his shoulders uncomfortably. Clearly he does remember, whether or not he wants to admit it. “What is it you want from me, Nelson? A pat on the back? A kiss on the forehead? What?”

  They all look at him now. Isn’t it obvious to them what he wants? Why does he have to say it? Just because he’s not feral doesn’t mean that he’s not part of the Terror Generation, too. Of course, no one calls Jasper a terror but his grandmother, and she always says it with a smile.

  “I want to be in your gang,” he tells them.

  The mention of the word brings a wave of irritation that Jasper can feel like static electricity.

  Raf steps forward, speaking for Alph, who just glowers. “We are not a gang,” Raf says. “We are an association.”

  “A limited partnership,” says someone else. And that makes a few others snicker.

  “Very limited,” Alph finally says. “And we don’t have room for schoolies. Got that?”

  Jasper knows this is all a show. He knows that Alph likes him. But Jasper has to prove himself, that’s all. He’s got to show his value. So he goes out on a limb. He knows it might get him beaten up or worse, but it will definitely get Alph’s attention.

  He turns to the cavernous space of the old theater and says as loudly as he can, “How many of you can read?”

  That brings absolute silence. He knew it would. Mentioning one of the three Rs can be a call to battle. There are some things you don’t say to ferals.

  Nobody answers him. Even if some of them can read, he knew they wouldn’t answer. Answering gives him power, and none of them want to do that. Not without permission from Alph. Jasper turns to Alph. “You need me. I can tell you what’s going on out there—the stuff you don’t see on TV.”

  “Why the hell should ‘out there’ matter to me?” Alph says, his voice more threatening than Jasper has ever heard it.

  “Because there’s this new thing I read about. It’s called unwiring, or something. They say it’s going to end the Heartland War, and it’s also going to solve the problem of ferals.”

  Alph crosses his arms in defiance. “This war ain’t never gonna end. And we are not a problem. Ferals are the future. Got that?”

  Jasper holds his gaze. Alph’s hard exterior shows no signs of cracking. No indication that he’s going to give Jasper the slightest break. Jasper sighs. “Yeah, I got it, Kevin.”

  The fury that comes to Alph’s face makes it clear that Jasper has made a critical error.

  “Don’t you ever call me that.”

  Jasper looks down. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to. . . .”

  Then Alph picks up something that’s on the table next to the tangle of jewelry. A snow globe—one of the many weird knickknacks salvaged from the world that existed before the Heartland War. This one shows a little gingerbread cottage magnified and distorted, submerged in water, and surrounded by swirls of fake snow.

  “Tell you what, Nelson,” Alph says. “I’ll give you until the count of ten. You make it to the door by ten, I won’t smash your skull with this thing.”

  “Alph, I—”

  “One.”

  “Just hear me out!”

  “Two.”

  Raf gets between them. “Better start running, dude.”

  “Three.”

  And so with no choice, Jasper turns to run.

  “Four.”

  The others laugh. One kid tries to trip him, but Jasper jumps over his extended foot.

  “Five.”

  He’s almost to the door. The door guards don’t try to stop him. They part to let him go, but then Alph does something unexpected.

  “Six-seven-eight-nine-ten!”

  With the countdown sped up, Jasper doesn’t stand a chance. Just before he reaches the door he feels the snow globe connect with his back, striking a middle vertebra. He goes down. The snow globe smashes on the concrete floor.

  “Man, what an arm!” one of the guards says. “Alph oughta play baseball or something.”

  Still in pain, Jasper gets to his feet. He’s going to have a major bruise on his back—but he’ll tell no one. “He could have killed me,” Jasper realizes out loud. “He could have hit me in the head and killed me.”

  One of the door guards scoffs. “If Alph wanted to hit you in the head, he would have.” Then he pushes Jasper out the door.

  • • •

  “You’re late again,” his mother says, the casualness in her tone forced, the suspicion in her voice poorly veiled. She used to manage a restaurant until either the Lifers or the Choicers inadvertently blew it up. Now all she does is micromanage Jasper.

  He drops his book bag on the couch and answers just as casually. His tone isn’t forced, however. He’s a much better actor than his mother. “There was a meeting about school clubs.
I wanted to check some out.”

  “What club are you interested in?”

  “Fencing,” he answers without the slightest hesitation.

  “So violent.”

  He passes her on the way to the fridge. “You don’t really stab people, Mom.”

  “Before you commit to anything, you should run it past your father, Jasper.”

  He stiffens, feeling the chill from the open refrigerator on his arm hairs. “I told you to call me Jazz.”

  “That’s not a name,” his mother says. “Take what you want and close the door. You’ll let all the cold out.”

  He spends the rest of the afternoon doing his homework at the dining room table. It must be done, or at least deeply carved into, by the time his father gets home from work, unless he wants the next iteration of the Lecture. The lecture is always the same: all about how lucky he is to be in a corporate school at all, and how if his grades don’t improve, they’ll pink-slip him. “And then what?” his father would rant. “Without a corporate school, you’ll have no future. You won’t be any better than a feral!”

  All the disgust in the world is packed into the word “feral” whenever his father says it—as if the feral kids are the source of all the world’s problems. Jasper can’t remember a time before there were ferals. The public schools failed even before the war started, leaving millions of kids with nothing to do but cause trouble for the system that put them out on the street. Nowadays only rich kids and corporation babies get an official education. Jasper is the latter: His father works for a huge shipping conglomerate, which guarantees Jasper’s place in the company’s educational program.

  Unless, of course, Jasper gets pink-slipped.

  He’s both terrified and enticed by the idea of expulsion. Maybe then Alph would see him as more than just a schoolie.

  As he slaves over his homework, he begins to wonder what it was like in the old days, when education was a right, not just a privilege. He wonders if school sucked as much then as it does now.

  He’s still working feverishly on algebra when his father gets home. He thinks that his diligence will spare him his father’s disapproval, but it doesn’t. “Why do you work in the dark like this? You’ll ruin your eyes, and then what?”

  Jasper wants to point out that it isn’t dark in the dining room; it’s just that outside it’s still light, and his father’s eyes haven’t adjusted to being indoors, but Mr. Nelson is not a man who suffers contradiction easily—especially when he’s tired, and he looks exceptionally tired today. So Jasper just turns on more lights, wondering if he’ll get a lecture later that night about wasting electricity. You’ll bankrupt us with utility bills, and then what?

 
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