Ignite, p.25

Ignite, page 25

 

Ignite
 


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  “But you understand the sensors won’t be installed for some time.”

  “There’s no need to mention that. It’s just an unannounced grace period. The children will be used to their Links before the system actually goes online.”

  Chapter 58

  12:30 AM

  Saturday, December 16, 2034

  Careen played possum until she was sure Tommy was asleep. He didn’t stir as she slid out of bed, pulled on her sweater, and tiptoed out of the room. She’d had time to search his room for clues, and now she meant to learn more about Atari. Light from the foyer guided her as she crept down the long hallway. The safe house was huge; so far, she’d only seen a small portion of it. She’d watched Atari disappear down a different hallway off the foyer when they’d arrived, so she assumed his rooms were on that side of the building.

  The singsong chirps of the video games and the gurgling water gave the impression that she’d wandered into some bizarre electronic zoo, but the constant babble of sounds was helpful in that it masked any noise she might make. She hurried past the fountain and down the third hallway, peering around the corner into the room with all the computers. No one was there.

  She sat in the tall, black-leather chair, which might help to conceal her presence if Atari happened by. She shuddered. The last thing she wanted was to be alone with him.

  She tapped one of the keyboards to wake it up, though she wasn’t even sure what she was looking for. A second tap brought up a grid of surveillance cameras on one of the big screens. She recognized the atrium and lobby of the OCSD.

  One touch on another keyboard brought up a paused video game. Other tabs were open on the toolbar, and one of them was labeled CAREEN.

  With shaking fingers, she moved the cursor and clicked on her name. The video was a little dark, but she could see a woman running full-out down a city sidewalk.

  Two quadrant marshals intercepted her at a corner, and she struggled wildly in their grip, kicking and screaming. One of them lost his hold on her, but just as it looked like she might break free, the other marshal shoved her against the wall, pinning her there while his partner zip-tied her hands behind her back. As the camera zoomed in, Careen clamped her hands to her mouth to keep from screaming. The woman in the video was her. But how is this possible?

  She breathed in panicky gasps, wishing she’d never seen any of it but unable to look away. The onscreen Careen tried to pull free of the marshal’s grasp, and he slammed her against the wall one more time before flinging her to her knees. A third figure stepped out of the shadows, gun in hand, and the marshals stood aside as Tommy, a look of stony determination on his face, fired point-blank into the back of her head.

  That must be Tommy’s test. If it is, he’s the one who’s going to fail.

  12:55 AM

  Movement in his bedroom startled Tommy awake. He rubbed his eyes as he reached for Careen in the darkness, but the space beside him was empty and cold. I thought I left the light on. He fumbled for the switch. “Hey!” He sat up slowly, hands out in front of him.

  Careen stared at him over the barrel of his gun; if he could’ve removed the 9mm from the scene, he’d have perceived her as cute and cuddly, with her tousled hair, in the slouchy sweater and socks that were way too big for her. The tiny light on her Link flashed in time with her racing heartbeat. “Take me back. Take me back right now.”

  “I thought that went without saying. I never wanted to break up.” He tried cracking the lopsided smile that she’d always seemed to like before. “What happened to my girl—you know, the one who can’t condone violence?”

  Her expression hardened even more. “Shut up. You don’t … you can’t know what I’ve been through, so you don’t get to be cute and make jokes. When I was being interrogated and beaten and humiliated, I swore if I had a gun I’d shoot whoever I had to, no regrets. I’m never going to let anyone hurt me again.”

  His brain was working on the double-quick. He wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t put her finger on the trigger until she was ready to fire the weapon, but he figured it might be more prudent not to spout off any unsolicited instructions. Instead, he tried to get to the root cause of her distress.

  “I’d never hurt you. Just put the gun down so we can talk, okay?”

  She shook her head.

  “A little while ago you said you trusted me.”

  “I was lying. Duh.”

  “Careen, ask me anything, and I promise I’ll tell you the truth. You’ll feel better if you talk about it. What did they do that’s making you so upset now?”

  “They? You’re all ‘they.’ This is some sort of test of my loyalty, but now I see that no matter what happens, I fail.”

  “Do you know how nuts you sound right now?” He slowly drew back the covers. “Give a guy a break. Don’t shoot me in my boxers, please. At least let me put some pants on first.”

  She shook her head again, and he froze with one foot on the floor. The contrast between the sleepy Careen who’d nestled beside him just a short while ago and this wild-eyed harpy who seemed determined to shoot him with his own gun was so great that he wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes.

  “Everything you and Atari said makes sense now. This place is part of the OCSD, isn’t it? Madalyn said the CXD protesters tried to kill me—once at PeopleCam and again at the Link press conference. I bet Danni loved turning them against me! Madalyn said the Resistance has been destroyed, and everyone involved has been sent to prison. So the only way you could even be here is if—”

  “Madalyn said, Madalyn said. Listen to yourself! Madalyn’s been lying to you, like she lies to everyone. The CXD groups aren’t violent. They’re not trying to kill you. They got excited when they saw you at PeopleCam, and it turned into a riot. Madalyn may wish the Resistance had been destroyed, but it’s not true! Mom, Dad, Trina, Eduardo—everyone’s fine.”

  “How do I know you’re not lying? There’s video of you and me—or people who look just like us. What is it, another trick? Or some kind of instruction manual?” Her nostrils flared.

  Dammit, I told Atari to delete that video. He looked as apologetic as he could. “Atari said that video was just a test to see if he could make the images of people—of us, in this case—look realistic. And you gotta admit, it was pretty realistic.” She looked even more furious, and he cringed. “He was going to create more doctored footage to use when we extracted you. That plan got scrapped a few days ago. But I told him that video was so not okay.”

  “Not okay? Is that the strongest objection you could muster about a video of you murdering me?”

  “Back up the bus for a second. I’m confused. There’s a video of me doing what?”

  “You shot me in the back of the head!”

  “So there’s more than one.” How do I explain this without making her even madder? “Did you find the video in Command Central?”

  “Yes.”

  “It’s the middle of the night. Atari’s probably asleep. Show me?”

  “Okay.”

  “Will you put down the gun?”

  “No chance.”

  “Can I get dressed first?”

  A tiny smile touched the corners of her mouth. “Yeah.”

  He pulled on a pair of jeans and a hoodie, and soon she was following him down the long hallway, gun pointed at his back. A trickle of sweat ran down his cheek, and his fear was for his safety and her sanity. She doesn’t know what I know—that everything changes in the time it takes to pull the trigger.

  When they reached Command Central, she closed the door behind them and tapped the keyboard to bring up the video.

  She’d paused it after the kill shot, and even without the replay he could barely look at his doppelganger on the screen, standing over her body, gun in hand. He was sure he hadn’t looked like that—triumphant and heroic—when he’d killed the marshal. His stomach lurched. “Please. If we have to watch this, I’d appreciate it if you’d put the gun down.”
>
  She pointed the muzzle at the floor, which he considered a major step in the right direction. “We don’t have to watch it. I don’t want to see it again. What was on the other video?”

  “It was … Atari called it a dating sim.”

  “Sim?”

  “Simulation. It was you and me. I made him pause the video before we did anything too embarrassing.”

  “Eww. He did that to both of us?” She looked like she was going to cry.

  “I know it seems bad, but the videos were for practice.”

  “But don’t you get it? If Atari can fool people with an enhanced video, the Link won’t be reliable or honest. Someone who can produce “evidence” like that can use it against anyone.

  “Atari fooled Madalyn. And me. We’re never going to be able to trust or rely on him. As long as what we see with our own eyes can be falsified, altered, and manipulated so easily, we’re never going to be able to trust anyone. We’ll never know what’s real and true.”

  “Atari’s got mad skills.”

  “But his capabilities make him just as likely to do evil as good.” She stared down at the Link on her wrist. “They said the Link is to protect children. I believed it was true! It would be such a good thing to know nothing bad could ever happen to the defenseless. But the thing itself is bad. Oh my God, it’s almost too late. Tommy, we’re trapped here with him. What are we going to do?”

  Chapter 59

  1:15 AM

  Quadrant OP-439

  Jaycee had been headed for bed when she heard Tom and Lara’s voices coming from Eduardo’s living room. The tone of Lara’s voice made her slow down and creep closer to listen in. She was a spy now, after all.

  “Are you absolutely sure? How do you know it was him?”

  “In a speech I gave. He quoted me back to myself. It’s been what, sixteen or seventeen years? But he apparently took it to heart when I said, ‘we must be prepared to spin, deceive, or manipulate if it champions the cause. Revolution means breaking the law and using force if necessary. Casualties are to be expected.’ ”

  “So it really wasn’t the OCSD setting up bogus terror attacks?”

  “It appears the ones orchestrated by Mitch opened the door for the OCSD to stage their own. The most notable one to Mitch’s credit is the one that killed Careen’s father. Once I realized that, I felt doubly responsible for the poor girl. That’s why I was so adamant about trying to help her.”

  Lara made an angry noise. “I can scarcely believe it. Mitch was to blame for everything we’ve been through? You’d think he might have mentioned it at some point!”

  “Well, it’s not exactly something you bring up over coffee.”

  Jaycee didn’t want to listen anymore but she stayed frozen on the spot, afraid the floorboards would creak and give away her presence.

  “We trusted him.”

  “He didn’t do all the things the OCSD accused me of, but he certainly made me the scapegoat. And just last week he had the audacity to say that we were all expendable. He could continue on without any of us, should we be apprehended.”

  “You never would have condoned that kind of violence.”

  “Of course not. Mitch was aiming to accelerate the downfall of the OCSD. But when Stratford blamed those attacks on me, who knows if he believed I was truly responsible, or if I was simply a target that could be eliminated.”

  Jaycee realized she’d been holding her breath. She felt dizzy, and Lara’s response faded into a meaningless buzz. She steadied herself against the wall as she crept into the bathroom. She needed a moment to think. She slid down the wall, holding her head in her hands.

  If her father had really killed Careen’s dad, he was a terrorist, not a noble revolutionary.

  There was no way to undo the past, but from now on, Jaycee vowed to take charge of the future.

  Join Tommy and Careen on Their Next Adventure

  Download an excerpt from…

  Revolt: Book Four of the Resistance Series

  FREE!

  To download the free excerpt, click the link right here (if your ebook-reading device is connected to the Internet)

  or type the following web address into your browser:

  http://eepurl.com/b4i435

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  To Susan Hughes of My Independent Editor, who is not just my editor, but also my friend. Thank you for everything you do, before, during, and after each book finds its way into the world.

  To Shelly Dippel, my friend, sounding board, and writing groupie. It would have taken much longer to finish Ignite without your input. Thanks for listening to the story, in all its incarnations, until it was done.

  To Mike Reid, my most awesome stagehand on Between the Covers with Tracy Lawson, who shall now also be known as King of the Formatters. Thanks for calmly handling all my technical glitches!

  Tracy Lawson

  Once upon a time, Tracy Lawson was a little girl with a big imagination who wanted to write books when she grew up. Her interests in dance, theater, and other forms of make-believe led to a career in the performing arts, where “work” means she gets to do things like tap dance, choreograph musicals, and weave stories.

  Her greatest adventures in musical theatre included creating disco choreography for forty middle schoolers on roller skates in Xanadu, building cast members’ endurance during an extremely aerobic jump rope number in Legally Blonde, and wrangling a cast of amazingly enthusiastic teenaged tap dancers in Crazy For You. She can also spin plates on sticks while she tap dances. Just ask her. She’ll be happy to demonstrate!

  Though teaching dance and choreographing shows was a great outlet for her creativity and boundless energy, Tracy never lost her desire to write. Faced with her only child leaving for college and her husband’s simultaneous cross-country job relocation, it seemed she’d found the perfect time to switch her focus. But fear not—she has maintained her ties to educational theatre by returning to choreograph shows each year at Bexley City Schools in Columbus, Ohio, so she can continue to nurture students and share her passion for putting on a great show.

  In her spare time, she blogs about YA and classic dystopian books and hosts Between the Covers with Tracy Lawson, an author interview program on the Liberty. Me network.

  Tracy, who is married with one college-aged daughter and three spoiled cats, splits her time between Dallas, Texas and Columbus, Ohio.

  To learn more about Tracy and all her books, visit http://tracylawsonbooks.com

  For the inside scoop on Tommy, Careen, and the Resistance Series, visit http://counteractbook.com

  Other Books by Tracy Lawson

  Counteract: Book One of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy Bailey and Careen Catecher learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government.

  Resist: Book Two of the Resistance Series (2015). Tommy and Careen are no longer naïve teenagers who believe the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense’s antidote can protect them from a terrorist’s chemical weapons. After accidentally discovering the antidote’s real purpose, they join the fight to undermine the OCSD’s bid for total control of the population.

  Being part of the Resistance brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Not everyone working for change proves trustworthy, and plans to spark a revolution go awry with consequences far beyond anything they bargained for. Tommy and Careen’s differing viewpoints threaten to drive a wedge between them, and their budding relationship is tested as their destinies move toward an inevitable confrontation with the forces that terrorize the nation.

  Winner Best YA Fiction for 2016 in the Texas Association of Authors Book Awards

 
; Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More: Explorations of Henry Rogers' 1838 Journal of Travel from Southwestern Ohio to New York City (2012) is based on a journal written by Lawson’s great-great-great grandfather, who kept an account of his family’s 55-day journey on a horse-drawn wagon. His observations about the social and political environment of the times, emerging technology, and his family’s health and comfort while on the road were all commented upon in the journal. After making most of the same trip herself by automobile--along with her young daughter--during the summers of 2003 and 2004, and keeping her own journal, Tracy was inspired to compare and share information about both trips--taken over a century and a half apart. Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More won the Ohio Professional Writers Association’s Best Non-fiction History award in 2012, and was featured in the Ohioana Book Festival in 2013.

  After receiving the journal as a Christmas gift, Lawson conducted research to lend context to the journal, and ultimately made most of the same trip herself by automobile, with her young daughter in tow. They kept their own journal, and the book compares and shares information about both trips, taken over a century and a half apart.

  Winner Best Nonfiction History for 2012 in the Ohio Professional Writers Association Book Awards

  Pride of the Valley (coming in 2017) with Steve Hagaman. After she finished writing Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More, Lawson was curious about what happened after her ancestors returned home from their 1838 journey to New York. Their working vacation was partly to visit relatives, and partly to observe mills and determine how best to add grist milling to their sawmill business.

  She happily dug into the research, and even picked up a coauthor along the way.

  Though their efforts to locate business ledgers or miller’s journals came to naught, they found clues in land and census records, a poem, and a stereoscope image from the 1860s. It might not sound like much, but it was enough to go on, and those clues directed them to other long-forgotten information both enhances and challenges accepted accounts of the mill’s history.

 
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