Numbers Ascending (#4)
Numbers Ascending (#4)
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The numbers game is back--and it's deadlier than ever.
Treena's new civilization is nearly perfect, with a single loophole in the law that threatens to destroy everything. With the new nation on the brink of imploding, a new enemy emerges.
- Enemies to lovers
- Protective hero
- Deadly secrets
THE RATING SYSTEM IS BACK...AND IT'S DEADLIER THAN EVER.
Celebrity heiress Legacy Hawking’s future has been planned for her—a high-profile government position, endless fame, and all the loneliness that comes with it.
But the spotlight is strangling her and nothing has gone right since the lab accident that took her mom’s life.
When she discovers the accident may have been murder, she shuns the weight of her family’s expectations and leaves to uncover the truth.
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Callahan once told me my life was fake. He didn’t elaborate, but I knew exactly what he meant. My giant house, my impossibly clean room, my driver. Yes, my driver. Every member of the family had one. Mine happened to be named Travers and sport a goatee that looked suspiciously like the state of Jordania.
I didn’t argue about my fake life when they assigned him to me, and I certainly wouldn’t now. Not here, on the last day of school when students were climbing over each other with excitement to take that first step out the door and into real life—that part when they got to choose where they’d go and what they’d do and who they’d do it with. Even the professors who walked past me in the hall couldn’t hide their relief. Another graduating class—gone. Another year finished.
The last Hawking student swept off to a fake future in politics and out of their hair.
Only one professor had ever liked me, and as luck would have it, they’d fired her halfway through the year for having a frank conversation with me about my not-so-stellar grades. She was right, but it hadn’t mattered. One letter from Dad and the school district withdrew themselves like a snail emerging into sunlight.
“I’m not telling,” the class flirt hissed at her latest boy. “None of us are supposed to, and don’t you dare tell me yours.” I smirked, not caring if she saw. The entire school knew Mollee was going into the medical field, and the wide-eyed boy who looked so pleased for the privilege of walking beside her was one of the few new enough to be awed by it.
I shoved myself through the crowd at the door. Most of the students pushed back until they saw who I was. Even then, a few pretended not to notice until I reached them and they reluctantly stepped aside. The door cameras caught everything.
When I reached the doorway and it’s too-bright sunlight shining through the glass, I frowned. Here it was—that first step into adulthood or maturity or whatever it was. Several other students paused as their implant recorders clicked on, turning their irises a light red before taking an exaggerated step across that line. Most of my fellow students had big plans for their Declarations.
My future was planned for me before I was even born. Probably even before my parents were born. Because when you have a famous grandmother who founds a country, some old lady named Norma at the market remembers your first steps and everything you wear is scrutinized and your entire classroom knows what your bedroom looks like. Blasted tabloids.
I shuffled past the line. Nothing changed for me today. I was moving from one family-mandated prison to another.
Friends hugged around me and made empty promises to chat about their new jobs. My life may have been fake, but I knew fake when I saw it, and I was willing to put credits on the fact that none of them would still be friends a year from now. A boy elbowed his friend, the male equivalent, and lowered his voice when he saw me. I hunched my shoulders and walked quickly by as a message came in. The blocky text scrolled across my vision.
WE NEED TO CHAT BEFORE YOUR DECLARATION. I GUARANTEE THIS IS A CONVERSATION YOU’LL BE INTERESTED IN. PLEASE RESPOND. -MR. VIRGIL, DIRECTOR OF NOUMENON
I stared at the message, my feet rooted to the ground like the real Oak tree shivering in the breeze overhead. Mr. Virgil. I’d met him several times before, usually when visiting my mom at the lab. He’d barely given me a passing glance. Why should he? I was just the annoying teenage daughter of his star scientist.
The last time I’d seen him was at her memorial service. There wasn’t a funeral because there wasn’t anything left of her after the explosion. He had the nerve to wear his black suit and try to shake my hand. I bet he didn’t even remember my name that day. And now this.
The words floated in the sky. I didn’t dismiss them.
I imagined myself responding with an icon of a bomb exploding, sending his precious new space station and its government-funded labs to Mars. If the guy didn’t know what I thought of Noumenon by now, he deserved it. That, and an actual strangling when I saw him next. Two hands, ten fingers, and one lying throat.
I read the message once more and deleted it with a rapid succession of blinks. Technically I wasn’t an adult until tomorrow, so his message should have gone through Dad. There was no way I’d leave that for Dad to find tonight when he went through my messages on the implant receiver at home.
Travers waited at the transport like he always did, the sun glinting off what little graying hair he’d managed to keep, arms at his sides. He looked like a soldier when he did that. I suspected he looked like a soldier everywhere he went. Maybe that was why Dad hired him five years ago—he doubled as a bodyguard and everything a famous teenage girl needed. By his strained smile, my hesitation in leaving school had cost us precious minutes. My days were planned as meticulously as my future.
As I approached, he opened the door and stepped aside. My transport was smaller than Dad’s and Alex’s—only my seat in back and two in front, one of which was always occupied by Travers—but I was fine with that. It looked more normal than the heavily reinforced metal version senators like my dad used. I only got sideways looks from passerby instead of jaw-gaping ones. A little difference, but enough.
I slid inside. Travers slammed the door a little too hard and took his seat the very next second. “Home,” he instructed, and the vehicle moved into traffic.
“Actually,” I began, and I saw his shoulders stiffen. “I was thinking. It’s been too long since I saw Gram. I’d like to visit her on the way.”
“I’m sure Gram can wait until after your tutoring session, Miss Hawking.”
“Professor Vine had several decades left in him last I checked. Gram, on the other hand, has months. Besides, Dad said I should be visiting her more often.” A lie. I didn’t talk to Dad about important things these days. I didn’t talk to him about much of anything. His long hours at the office made talking difficult. But Travers didn’t have to know that. What mattered was the reminder of who Senator Hawking was and, by association, who I was.
It passed right over him. “The Honorable Treena Dowell-Hawking sleeps all afternoon and wouldn’t notice your presence if you were two inches from her face. Professor Vine, however, will be affected by your absence as he can’t do his job without you. Your father’s credits account will also miss you as this particularly expensive tutor charges by the half hour and we’re already a quarter of an hour late.”
“I had to say goodbye to some friends.” Another lie. I didn’t have friends. At least, not in the traditional way. I’d walked slowly through the hallway, looking for a smile or at least a “Hey, good luck with your Declaration tomorrow,” but nobody had obliged. I hadn’t really expected them to. Callahan would have given me that, but he went to a school across town.
An eyebrow cocked in the mirror. “Did you now?”
“I did. Last day of school and all. It’s a big day for us young folk.”
“Indeed. Which is why your tutoring session today is so important. I’m told you’ll be practicing for tomorrow’s Declaration.”
I groaned. “I already know how to say, ‘I’m following in my father’s honorable footsteps and doing exactly what every Hawking ever has done. Yes, I’m irrelevant, and no, I don’t care. Thanks for the tax money for my big house.’”
A pause. “At least you acknowledge where your father’s money comes from, which is more than most politicians accomplish in a lifetime.”
I slapped the seat. “Travers. Did you just make a joke?”
“No. I was serious.” That rigidness was back again.
I smirked. “Transport, change course to Gram’s apartment.”
He turned in his seat to glare at me as the transport clicked to indicate my change of course. I just shrugged. “I’ll be quick.”
“Quick? Which version of quick will this be, Miss Hawking? Your speed at which you left school today, or the speed at which you got ready for school this morning and every other day this year? Or perhaps your last visit to Callahan’s house, which lasted only four hours when you asked for ten minutes?”
“That isn’t fair. I forget you were waiting.”
“It’ll be quick enough. You don’t need to . . . ” I trailed off as another message scrolled across my vision.
MISS HAWKING. FORGIVE THE INTRUSION, BUT WE REALLY SHOULD TALK. IT’S ABOUT YOUR DECLARATION TOMORROW. I’D HATE FOR YOU TO MAKE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE. -MR. VIRGIL
This time, I belted a laugh. He’d hate for me to follow the path Gram had set her future posterity on the moment she became a hero? Because Mr. Virgil wasn’t the only one, but he didn’t deserve to know that. I didn’t owe him a response and he wouldn’t get one, no matter how concerned he pretended to be about my future.
If he really cared, he shouldn’t have let my mom risk her life in that stupid lab.
I dismissed the message and shot Travers a sweet smile. “I’m fine. You may read that book you’ve been hiding under the seat while I’m visiting Gram. One of the perks of the job, right?”
Anyone else would have colored at bit since old-fashioned paper books were illegal, but Travers kept his gaze locked on me, somehow expressionless as always. “Indeed.”
Another message scrolled across my vision, and irritation almost made me dismiss it before I caught the name. This time, I felt a wide grin spread across my face. I responded with a series of quick blinks and replied.
Callahan: WHERE ARE YOU? I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR 20 MINUTES.
Me: I’M GOING TO VISIT GRAM. COME ALONG IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE IMPATIENT.
Callahan: I SWEAR I’VE SPENT HALF MY LIFE WAITING FOR YOU TO BE WHERE YOU SAID YOU’D BE. YOU REALLY WORRIED ABOUT GRAM, OR ARE YOU JUST PISSING TRAVERS OFF?
Me: TRAVERS, DAD, THE TUTOR. IT’S KIND OF A THREE-FOR-ONE DEAL.
Callahan: NEXT TIME, TELL ME BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO GO OFF ON A PISS FEST, K? FUN AS IT IS TO STAND HERE ON YOUR FRONT PORCH ALL AFTERNOON, I HAD PLANS TODAY.
I rolled my eyes. Callahan never had plans. At least, plans beyond building model rocket ships with his dad and hiding them in his closet because he was too afraid to actually fly them in public. He was too afraid to do practically anything in public. How we’d become friends was beyond me.
Travers slid out the door before the transport had fully stopped, and the door opened. “Miss Hawking.”
“Please wish your grandmother health and a quick recovery for me.”
I flinched. He always said that, but it felt like wishing a dying bird a splint and watching life leave its eyes. Pretty words and nothing that really counted. My life in a nutshell.
But I shot him a grin anyway as I rose to my feet and stalked up the steps to the double doors.
The guards thrust a fist to their chests as I pushed the door open, acknowledging their respect with a nod like the good famous granddaughter I was supposed to be. They were more decorations than anything. It wasn’t the guards that worried me. It was—
“Legacyyyyyyy,” Carmen, Gram’s assistant, drawled as she hurried around the corner toward me. “What a fun surprise.” Translation: You didn’t call to give me warning. Again.
“I missed Gram so much, I just had to see her. Is she feeling better?”
“It’s a good day.” The sour expression on her face meant she resented admitting it. “She may even be awake. Wait here while I go—”
“Don’t bother. I’ll check in on her.” I stomped upstairs, ensuring that if Gram was asleep, she wouldn’t be much longer. “A friend may stop by. Kind of pale and skinny but looks smart. He’ll probably look irritated and sweaty from the bike ride here. Send him up when he arrives.”
She pasted a smile on her face. “Yes, Miss.”