Numbers Collide (#5)
Numbers Collide (#5)
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Solving the mystery of her mother’s murder has done nothing but widen the cracks in her world.
With Alex and the Firebrands reinstating the Rating System, NORA’s leaders fighting for their lives in the hospital, and most citizens grieving lost loved ones, Legacy has a monumental task in front of her.
Somehow she must keep her father alive, win the Copper Office back, and unite NORA under her own rule--and do it all before she loses Kole for good.
- Kick-butt heroine
- Protective hero
- Happily ever after
NEW NORA IS ON THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE--AND SO IS LEGACY'S FAMILY.
Legacy Hawking never thought she'd end up here. Solving the mystery of her mother’s murder has done nothing but widen the cracks in her world. With Alex and the Firebrands reinstating the Rating System, NORA’s leaders fighting for their lives in the hospital, and most citizens grieving lost loved ones, Legacy has a monumental task in front of her. Somehow she must keep her father alive, win the Copper Office back, and unite NORA under her own rule.
Gram’s health has begun to decline as well, leaving Legacy relying on Kole for support. But soon she begins to see what Kole is trying to desperately to hide—the effects of the attack on his mind are far greater than she realized, and she may just lose him too.
When Legacy’s biological family reaches out with an offer of help but at a terrible cost, she must decide how badly she wants to win—and what she’s willing to sacrifice to save the nation that has become her family’s legacy.
Experience the thrilling conclusion to this dystopian adventure by a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author today!
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
I gazed upon the island before me, beneath me, around me, and couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Words would have broken the magic of it all—the gray sky that seemed to extend forever, the dark-blue water that disappeared over the horizon, the sound of the wild grass dancing softly in the breeze.
All this existed long before I did, and it would exist long after I was gone. The thought shouldn’t have been comforting, but it was. No matter what happened to New NORA in these next few weeks, this—this beautiful, quiet part of the world—would live on.
“You’re speechless,” said Foster, my assistant. “That’s a good thing, right?”
At nineteen, Foster was older than I, but sometimes he felt much younger. This was one of those times. The wind blew his dark, shoulder-length hair into his eyes, and he shoved it aside impatiently, watching my face for any hint of my thoughts.
“Uh . . .” I began, but the words still wouldn’t come. I tried to pull myself back from the peaceful silence and remember why we were here. Think like a leader, not an exhausted girl looking for respite from a life she hasn’t earned and doesn’t want.
I looked again, this time with new eyes. Hawking eyes, sharp and critical. From where we stood, the island felt smaller than it truly was. I wasn’t sure that these hills, green and marred only by the occasional broken and rotting structure, were what we needed for our next base of operations. The city where I grew up lay far across the channel, barely visible beneath the thick gray sky. The distance alone was a problem. It would be hard enough keeping my followers alive and safe from Alex across town these days, let alone in some broken-down wilderness across a huge body of deep, cold water.
One thing was certain—either this island made the perfect base of operations or the worst. Was it possible for something to be both?
Movement caught my eye. A furry creature watched us from the bottom of the hill. It looked so different from everything I’d seen before that I positively gaped. Not a goat, surely. A shaggy sheep with a really long neck and huge black eyes that never seemed to blink. A few others emerged from the trees and stood behind it. We’d interrupted their meal.
Either that or we were about to become their meal.
“Are those dangerous?” I asked, my heart rate picking up. My feet felt cemented to the soft ground. I couldn’t have run if it meant my life.
Foster chuckled at my expression. “Forgive me, Your Honor, but . . . your brother has armed Firebrands combing the city for you, yet you’re afraid of a llama?”
Llama. I vaguely remembered the term from school. Growing up in the city meant I’d petted many a cat and dog, but zoos were a thing of the past. I tried to calm my racing heart. “The Firebrands are a little less furry.”
He laughed. “I wouldn’t get too close. Llamas can get a little aggressive if they feel threatened. They’ll chase you down or bite. Or spit.”
Today’s tour had taken an odd turn. “Spit?”
“Yeah. They can spit pretty far too. My grandpa had a couple in his backyard when I was a kid, before the animal-rights laws. I used to try to spit as far as they did. My mom hated it.”
“Okay . . .” Keeping my eyes on the animals, I took a few steps backward despite the expanse between us, then tried to focus on the task at hand. Travers would return from his explorations any second. “It’s pretty, but I’m not convinced this is the best place for us. The buildings are destroyed, and we’d be separated during an attack. What we need is a central location we can defend.” Even better would be not having to defend it at all, but Alex’s Firebrands were on our tail every moment of every day. Only luck had kept us from being caught so far. “Besides, it would take years to ferry everyone over here.”
Foster’s smile had dimmed a bit while I spoke, but now it brightened again. “I have a solution for that. The tunnel.”
I looked around again, but no tunnel presented itself—just a grassy island with dozens of hills and clusters of trees. “I don’t follow.”
“The wealthy used to live on this island. You saw the big houses coming in, right?”
Big destroyed houses, yes, but I nodded anyway.
“Before the Old War, several executives left the city to settle somewhere quiet. This island was the perfect place except for one thing—they had to ferry back and forth, and that took too much time. So they built a private, two-lane underwater tunnel. When the richest of them died, his heirs turned the family house into a resort and bought the tunnel rights from their neighbors. It became one of the most popular destinations in the state—till the tunnel caved in one day, killing fifty-two people.”
I flinched. What a terrible way to die.
“Old records say the tunnel was never rebuilt, but they’re wrong.” His earlier excitement returned full force, and he waved his hands absently as he spoke. “A private investor repaired it fifty years ago. We could bring everyone here through the tunnel, and Alex would never see them coming, especially if we do it at night. The resort has plenty of space for everyone, and it’s defensible, not to mention that we’ll see any intruders coming from a long way off. We’ll only need to figure out how to get those old generators to work.”
I couldn’t help but be impressed. I should have known Foster would think of everything. He’d served Dad as an intern for two years, after all. “I see. And food options?”
“There’s a bay for fishing, although we’d be seen pretty easily from the air so we’d have to be careful. And there’s a storage room off the resort’s kitchen. I haven’t investigated yet, but I’m guessing we’ll find something there too. At worst, there are hundreds of wild llamas running around. I hear they taste like a cross between beef and lamb.” Foster frowned. He liked his furry childhood friends more than he let on, it seemed.
I nodded thoughtfully, pushing a windblown strand of hair behind my ear. It flopped right into my eyes again. My cabinet—consisting of Gram and two surviving councilors—expected me to form an army of the supporters who flocked to us each day. But that wasn’t what my followers needed. It was food, shelter, water, and safety—all things we’d struggled to find enough of these past weeks.
I gave up on the hair and let it whip around in the breeze, wishing I’d listened to my tutor a little more. He’d droned on about resources and survival, and I’d groaned and whined through most of it. Surely Alex was glad for his attentive listening about now. Half the city supported Alex’s reign and his promise to reinstate the Rating system. The other half opposed him, but that didn’t necessarily mean they supported me. They simply wanted their fallen loved ones to receive the medical attention Alex denied them. That, or they believed the rumors that I could have their implants safely removed. In both cases, providing for such a large group had become my most pressing concern.
Thankfully, our temporary hospital fulfilled the first need, though we had far more patients than our medical volunteers could handle, a problem brought to my attention daily. But there wasn’t much I could do about that. The second need felt even more daunting. Millian and her brain-specialist partner, Physician Redd, had discovered how to temporarily deactivate our implants. It involved magnets and gravity, and even though I’d gone through it myself, I still didn’t understand exactly how it worked.
But we all knew it wasn’t a permanent solution. If Virgil ever returned from Malrain and decided to wreak havoc again, I had no doubt he could figure out how to reactivate everyone. We had to discover how to safely remove the implants. Once we did, all those patients in comas would be healed. Dad would be healed. We’d lost a few to Virgil’s horrid update, but at least we’d save the rest.
“. . . the water is fresh on that side of the island,” Foster continued, and I realized he’d been talking for a while. I tried to pay better attention as he continued, naming the island’s benefits as if reading down a memorized list. He’d come prepared as always, a virtue I appreciated more each day.
When he finished, I forced a smile. “Thank you for showing me. I think it’s worth considering. Let’s have a team of engineers investigate the tunnel’s soundness and a security team check out the resort.”
“Fair enough,” Foster said, looking pleased.
I didn’t voice my other doubts, such as whether our communications worked this far from the city or new followers could find us here. But a greater worry gripped my mind in a terrible way. Defensible or not, if Alex discovered us here or found the tunnel, he could defeat us in a single battle—one I doubted most would survive. A few weeks before, I wouldn’t have assumed my brother capable of such a thing. But now, after watching Alex replace Enforcers with Firebrands and seeing my followers’ homes burned to the ground in retaliation, I could no longer make assumptions. Alex wasn’t the boy I’d grown up with. It was time to accept that.
“We need to go, Miss Hawking,” my driver, Travers, said, his long legs striding up the hill. His frame always reminded me of a teenager’s—not strong and young but lanky and awkward and somehow still growing into itself despite his wrinkles and rapidly disappearing silver hair. Perfect timing as usual. I suspected he’d hung out of sight, listening, waiting until we finished our conversation. He halted next to me. “Any word from Physician Redd yet?”
“None.” I patted the old-fashioned long-distance radio in my pocket, resisting the urge to check the volume again. I’d turned it all the way up upon our arrival. My nerves fluttered in my stomach. What was it they said? The third time’s a charm? Surely this time the operation would succeed. I didn’t know if I could handle another patient’s death, whether they would have died anyway or not. Each failure made Dad feel further away than the time before.
“Thanks, Travers.” I glared back at the llama, who hadn’t moved an inch since our conversation began, and began to pick my way carefully down the grassy hill. This morning’s rain had made it slippery, and I nearly ended up on my backside twice before Travers wordlessly offered an elbow. It wouldn’t do for my assistant to see me fall today. He was probably still laughing about the llama thing. I didn’t turn around to check.
As we approached the harbor where our boat waited, a soft, orange light bathed the entire island. Our visit coincided with dusk so we could travel back under cover of darkness. Despite my worries, I found myself hoping the committee chose this location. The clean wind that rushed up from the sea smelled of new growth and salt and promise. I could almost imagine couples vacationing here long ago, walking on this very path to the harbor together, celebrating weddings or anniversaries, and even bringing children along to skip rocks on the water. The thought brought Kole back to mind, and for the first time in a while, I felt my lips lift into a tiny smile.
I’ll bring Kole back here someday, I told the island silently. No matter what.
“Gram would like this place, I think,” Travers said.
I gave the island one last sweeping look before stepping into the boat. She would. Maybe it would help her health where nothing else did. She’d taken to wearing half a dozen blankets and taking naps again. Maybe the sea air would help Dad, too, though his condition made it hard to transport him. I added that to my list of concerns. If we moved everyone out here, Physician Redd would come too. Putting Dad in a public hospital wasn’t an option with Alex searching for him. I didn’t think my brother would kill our father, but then, I hadn’t expected him to stage a coup and take over the country either.
Thankfully, I had a few surprises in store for him. We wouldn’t be on the run much longer.
“Home, then?” Travers asked as he climbed in next to me. Foster followed, taking a seat in back.
“The warehouse, if you don’t mind,” I told him. “Millian is waiting to give her report.”
Foster perked up. “You’re going to see Director Millian?”
Travers and I looked at him in confusion. I wasn’t surprised that Foster knew Millian, but they couldn’t be that close. He looked like a boy with a stack of new credits, begging to go to the candy shop.
Foster clamped his mouth shut, a bit of pink staining his cheeks. “Sorry, Your Honor.”
Interesting. I’d be keeping an eye on him.
Travers and I exchanged a look, and then he spoke. “It’s been a long day. I’ll have Millian visit you at the house.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to interrupt Millian’s work. What she’s doing is important. And the fewer visitors at the house, the better.” I glanced at Foster, who fixed his gaze on the ocean. “Besides, I want Gram to rest, and we both know she’ll feel obligated to socialize if anyone drops by.”
Travers gave a single, decided nod. “To the warehouse, then.” He started the boat and steered us away from the dock. It was then I noticed the redness in his eyes.
“Are you all right?” I asked, leaning over so he could hear me over the wind. “You’ve been quiet all day.”
He didn’t answer right away. I knew he would reply only when he was ready, so I waited in silence as I watched the island shrink behind us.
I was about to apologize for my question when Travers finally spoke, his voice tight. “My wife and I, we were married on the island. I don’t wish to talk about it.”
In the weeks since Virgil’s update, many of NORA’s citizens had lost loved ones. Most, like Dad, still lay in comas, but not all had received the care they needed in time. Travers’s wife had died on their living room floor. He’d refused to discuss her or anything related to her. He’d even moved into the house with us. I suspected he couldn’t set foot in his home with her gone.
I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. Hopefully it was enough for him to know I understood. Travers grieved like I did, alone and quietly. His throat moved as he swallowed, but he said nothing more.