Sneak (Swipe Series #2)by Evan Angler
“Apocalyptic dystopian fiction at its best. Angler’s sharp wit and dexterity with political themes are matched only by the thrilling suspense on every page.” ---Lis Wiehl, New York Times bestselling author and FOX News correspondent In a future United States under the power of a charismatic leader, everyone gets the Mark at age thirteen.See more details below
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“Apocalyptic dystopian fiction at its best. Angler’s sharp wit and dexterity with political themes are matched only by the thrilling suspense on every page.” ---Lis Wiehl, New York Times bestselling author and FOX News correspondent In a future United States under the power of a charismatic leader, everyone gets the Mark at age thirteen.
“Apocalyptic dystopian fiction at its best. Angler’s sharp wit and dexterity with political themes are matched only by the thrilling suspense on every page.”
–– Lis Wiehl, New York Times best-selling author and Fox News correspondent
Read an Excerpt
By Evan Angler
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Evan Angler
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNEW CHICAGO, NEW RULES
Logan Paul Langly ran until his legs gave out and his insides burst with pain. He ran until there were sparks in his eyes and splinters in his lungs. He ran until he collapsed.
The sun had long since dipped behind the skyline's abandoned rooftops, and Logan Paul Langly slumped now against the side of a building that gave no shelter, under lampposts that gave no light.
Ahead of him, outlined against the dying glow of a purple horizon, was an overpass, silent and slowly crumbling. This was the Ruined Sector, the outskirts of New Chicago, destroyed in the States War and never rebuilt. He was fifty miles out from Spokie. Another twenty from downtown.
Downtown was where he needed to be.
So Logan stood and stumbled on, blindly, paranoid, walking backward half the time, under the shadows of the dead neighborhood. A winter stillness held him at arm's length from any sense of hope these city streets might have given him, but even in his exhaustion, he knew that this was progress. For the moment, he wasn't being followed. For the moment, he wasn't lost.
"It's better than the woods," Logan told himself, emerging from the shadows and finding some small comfort in the thought. He had to wipe his face on his sleeves so the tears wouldn't freeze to his cheeks, but he laughed a little and said it again. "It's better than the woods, and the view here is nice tonight."
He looked out as he said it. Beside him, the water at the Ruins' edge stretched all the way to the horizon, peaceful and frozen and smooth. A soft wind slid over the ice, hitting Logan with waves of clear blue chill, and he could feel the Lake Michigan air lodging, jagged, in his throat.
Three months ago, Logan Paul Langly could not have imagined he'd wind up here. Three months ago, Logan Paul Langly was a normal kid with a normal life. He went to school, he mostly did his homework, and like all kids his age, he waited patiently for his thirteenth birthday—the day he would finally be Marked. By now, Logan should have been a full American Union citizen with full American Union benefits. But instead, he was here, a Markless fugitive stranded and alone—and that was the least of his worries.
Growing up, Logan had always thought of New Chicago as being familiar and close. He and his family had visited often to see his grandmother on birthdays or for the Inclusion Day parades. New Chicago always reminded him of cakes from his aunt and uncle's bakery downtown, of school trips to museums or family trips to sights and shops. He had felt like he belonged there. It had felt almost as much like home as Spokie did.
But New Chicago did not feel like home tonight.
And Logan did not belong anywhere now.
"Hands out, hotshot!"
Logan spun in the direction of the voice behind him.
"I said hands out!"
Under darkness, Logan could see the silhouette of a teenager in front of him, poking up from behind a trash can and holding its lid as some type of defense.
"I'm not ... I don't ... I'm no hotshot," Logan stuttered, barely even knowing what that meant, but the girl was already rushing at him, fumbling with Logan's coat, tearing at it. Finally she had Logan's wrist, and with the hand that held the lid, she pushed Logan's sleeve up tight past his forearm.
"Stop it! Stop it!" Logan yelled, wide-eyed and horrified, as the girl twisted his arm painfully to get a better look. "I'm no hotshot! I'm Markless, you beggar! I'm Markless! Like you!" And with these words, the girl paused finally, her arms slackening ever so slightly. She peered down at Logan's wrist, squinting severely in the dim light.
Logan was right, of course. His wrist was empty.
"Oh. Well, then it's nice to meet you," the girl said suddenly, smiling big and toothy. "Welcome to the Ruins!"
"It's how we get by." The girl shrugged, sitting cross-legged next to Logan by the lake. "I'm sure you understand."
But Logan rubbed his elbow tenderly, not understanding at all.
"Oh, get over it!" she scoffed. "As if you've never accidentally attacked a friendly stranger."
"I haven't," Logan said. "And where I come from, no one else does, either."
"Oh yeah? Where's that?" The girl rolled her eyes. "I'd love to visit."
Logan rose to his feet. "Slog Row," he said. "In Spokie." Then, more quietly, "You can't visit anymore."
The girl paused for a moment, cocking an eyebrow and taking in the sight of him. "You're a long ways from home," she said.
Logan laughed. "You have no idea."
The two of them walked along the water's edge for some time after that, Logan still nursing his elbow, the girl swinging her trash can lid playfully. "So you looking for anything in particular?" she asked. "It isn't an easy hike from the suburbs to the Ruins. Especially not this time of year."
"I wasn't headed for the Ruins," Logan said. "I'm headed downtown. I'd still be on my way if you hadn't stopped me."
"Well, then you're lucky I did! Markless like us don't stand a chance downtown anymore."
Logan looked at her, narrowing his eyes.
"Don't tell me you haven't heard."
"DOME. They've gone bonkers!" She raised her eyebrows, pausing for effect. "Come on. You must know this by now. What they're doing—"
"I've been on the road a long time," Logan said, shaking his head. "Hiding in alleys, lost in the woods ..." But the truth was that Logan did know. The truth was that Logan knew exactly what the Department of Marked Emergencies had been doing in the month since his Pledge. The Department of Marked Emergencies had been looking for him. He knew because they'd chased him in circles for weeks. He knew because they'd barricaded every last entrance to his hometown of Spokie. He knew because it took him three false starts to make it even this far toward New Chicago without getting caught in his first few steps.
Logan shrugged. "I haven't exactly been keeping up with current events. Been about a month since I've spoken to anyone at all."
The girl eyed Logan sideways for just a moment longer than he would have liked. "Well, that's when it started," she said. "'Bout a month ago. DOME has agents everywhere now, patrolling the streets. Someone with a dirty coat or unwashed hair or a skinny face comes along, DOME asks to see a Mark. Any poor tightwad can't show one ... off they go."
"Hard to say." The girl shrugged. "They don't come back. Anyway, you can understand why I get a little jumpy around strangers these days." She took his hand playfully, twining her fingers in his and pointing his wrist upwards to examine it again.
"Still not Marked," Logan said.
"Yeah, well ... can't be too sure." The girl rolled her eyes and let his hand drop. "So where's your huddle, then, Mr. Lone Wolf?"
"You don't have a huddle?"
Logan cleared his throat nervously.
"A huddle's, like ... you know, your tribe or whatever. A circle. A family. Maybe not a real family, but—"
"I get it," Logan said. For a moment, Peck and Blake and the others flashed into his head. "I almost had one once, I guess. I didn't know you called them huddles."
"Well, what do you call them?"
"I dunno," Logan said. "A gang?"
The girl laughed. "Gang is a tycoon word. Markless stick to huddles."
"Tycoon?" Logan asked.
"Sure. Tycoons, bigwigs, hotshots, moguls—you know, the big spenders. The haves. The Marked."
Logan had heard the words before, but in Marked culture only the most foulmouthed people would dare use them in such a disparaging way.
"Oh, don't look so offended," the girl said. "The day the Marked stop calling me 'miser' and 'skinflint' and 'tightwad' and all the other awful slurs they've thought up over the years is the day I'll apologize for calling them moguls. Until then ... well ... they started it."
The two of them looked out at the lake for a long time.
"I need to get going," Logan said, shivering a little. "I've got a long way to walk tonight."
"What? Have your ears frozen shut? I told you, kid, downtown is off-limits. We stick to the Ruins now."
"No." Logan frowned. "I need help."
"Well, then let me. I have warm clothes, food—"
"I don't need to survive. I need to move." The girl looked at him, not understanding, and Logan sighed. "I need to get to the capital, to Beacon City. I have an aunt and uncle downtown, and as far as I can figure it, they're my only ticket there."
"Then they're not family anymore."
"Look, whatever," Logan said, turning to leave, but the girl grabbed his shoulder before he could.
"You won't make it—"
"I've made it this far—"
"They won't help you." The girl looked desperate now, her voice shaking suddenly. Logan wondered how many friends she'd lost in the last couple of weeks. "DOME's turning them on us. I'm telling you, it's like Mark-Unmark warfare or something. Your family won't take you to Beacon. They'll take you to the Center to Pledge and align yourself with Lamson and Cylis, like all the other moguls and hotshots. They'll take you to be Marked." The girl ran her fingers through her hair, looking down and sighing deeply, trying to compose herself. "And that's if you're lucky. That's if they don't just send you straight to DOME on some trumped-up charge, like the good little tycoons they are." She looked out at the lake again, frozen and peaceful, and she took a few more deep breaths. "The one thing they will not do"—she spoke slowly now, her energy spent-"is get you to Beacon."
Logan sighed, feeling the cold creep in under his skin again. He wrapped his arms around himself. "They'll have to," he said, simply. "They're my only shot."
"Only shot at what?"
Logan frowned, and for a moment his mind traveled far away. To his sister, to Lily, a flunkee, swiped by DOME during her own Pledge five years ago, shipped halfway across the continent to Beacon City, to be punished in ways so secret that even most DOME employees didn't know the specifics. Logan thought of her, hidden away, alone and scared and confused. He had to save her.
"It doesn't matter what," Logan said finally.
"Well, it'd better. It had better matter a lot, actually. 'Cause you'd be risking everything for it."
"You'd be amazed," Logan said, "at how little I have to lose."
The girl stared at him, frowning, and he stared back. Then she knelt down, and she laid her trash can lid on the ground. She had a small bundle slung on her back, and she untied it and opened it, spreading out its contents on the ground. "Hungry?"
Logan didn't quite know how to answer that. He hadn't had a real meal since his birthday breakfast almost a month ago. Anything he'd eaten since, he'd found discarded among garbage or growing in the woods. In the moment, out of pride, he intended to shrug the girl's question away, to reinforce his status as the Lone Wolf Markless, able to fend for himself. But the thought of food sent a lurching wave through his system, and Logan must have grimaced.
"Here," she said, holding out a stack of crackers. "Take 'em. I have lots."
Logan could see that she didn't, that there was almost nothing there. "I can't take your food," he said. But Logan was smiling for the first time in so long that it made his face feel strange.
"Well, I don't want them back." The girl shrugged. And she pressed every last cracker she had into his hands.
Immediately, he was eating them, eating so fast that he choked a little and coughed out a cloud of pieces, the mouthful falling to the ground. At once he dropped down to scrape them up, crumbs and dirt and lint all mingling together, sticking to his fingers, and Logan licked all of it off, not caring what parts were crackers and what parts weren't. His eyes watered from the quick intake, and he coughed a few more times before he could speak. But when he did, it was with contentment and relief, a dry, grateful whisper. "Thank you," he said. "That's the most I've eaten in ..." But he honestly didn't know, and he knew better than to remind himself.
"I'm Bridget," the girl said, putting out her Unmarked hand and letting it hang there for several moments.
Finally, Logan nodded. But he didn't take her hand. He didn't say a word.
"You may be Unmarked." She laughed. "But you aren't one of us."
"What makes you say that?" Logan asked.
"Because you still won't trust me."
"You just attacked me!"
"Well, sure, when I thought you were some bigwig," she said, as though it were nothing. "When I thought you were a mogul. Doesn't mean you have to hold it over me forever."
Logan frowned. The fact was, he didn't trust anyone anymore. But he couldn't go into all that now. "You just don't need to know my name, is all," he said, and he rubbed his elbow to drive the point home.
"Fine," Bridget said. A strange expression flashed again across her face, but it was gone before Logan could decipher it. "Even if you are set on going downtown, though, you're not gonna get there tonight. So the way I see it, you have two options. The first is that you stay with our huddle and get a good night's sleep. Andrew's down there by the trash cans, and he has an extra blanket you can use."
"What? Are you scared of him, too? Listen. You've got a friend now with me around, and I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here all night, and I'll be here when you wake up. If anyone gives you trouble ..." Bridget swung her trash can lid like a shield and smiled.
"Thanks," Logan said. "I think." He nodded, unable to look at her through some combination of humility and paranoia. "But what's 'option two'?"
"Option two is that you run off and freeze to death, and I get to say I told you so."
"Excuse me?" Logan said.
But Bridget only winked, and she walked off toward the huddle in the distance, laughing to herself all the way.
"The underpass is ours," Andrew said as Logan wrapped a blanket around himself. "It's decent shelter from the worst of the weather, and if you can manage to climb up to the highway, the road makes for a good lookout. Hey, Ron, you up there?" Andrew called abruptly.
"All clear!" a voice floated down.
"Why not keep to the buildings?" Logan asked. "Doesn't look like anyone's claimed them."
"Can't risk it," Andrew said. "Not since DOME started clamping down. They've already chased us out of New Chicago's main streets, and you'd better believe they're looking for an excuse to follow us out here and arrest us once and for all. Couple of squatting charges would give it to 'em—it's illegal to stay in a building that ain't yours, even if it's empty."
"But how would DOME know?"
Andrew laughed. "This huddle around you? We're the ones still out here, the ones who got away. Now, why do you think that is?"
"It's 'cause we're the careful ones. DOME's thinking two steps ahead these days, so it's our job to think three. Now, the way I see it, we can't be sure those buildings aren't smoky with that electronic chalk dust DOME's always using to spy on us. Whaddaya call it? Surveillance powder. All it takes is one building filled with the stuff for DOME to hear us walkin' around inside, and then it's just a matter of time before they're banging down the doors and dragging us away. But the underpass"—Andrew swept his arms out around him and smiled at Logan—"the underpass is safe. It's open. It's ours." Andrew dropped his arms and shrugged. "For now, that is. Whether or not they're admitting it, DOME's rules have changed. Join Cylis and get Marked or die, am I right? One by one, if they have to—they're cleaning us out."
Logan's mouth went dry. "You, uh ... you have any idea why that is?"
"Sure," Andrew said. "Simple. Little band of skinflints poked the sleeping giant."
"A little band of ..."
Andrew laughed. "Look, Mr. Slog Row, do yourself a favor and try not to lie to me. There's no way you don't know this story."
Logan sat with his knees tucked up against his chest. He buried his chin into the edge of the blanket wrapped up around his shoulders and stared intently into its worn fabric. Thirty feet away, Bridget leaned against the next row of overpass pillars, arms crossed, one leg tucked up, totally still, just watching.
Andrew glanced at her and laughed. "I know Bridget says you're new at this, kid, but you can't honestly think I'd believe that you've never heard of the Dust."
Logan sat still.
"The Dust? You know, Peck's group? Come on; you must have heard of Peck."
"Rings a bell ...," Logan said, swallowing hard.
"He's been famous for years! The guy's, like, our biggest recruiter—our only recruiter, probably. Like a, uh—whaddaya call it?—a Robin Hood–type." Andrew laughed. "You know, stealing kids from the rich and giving them to the poor."
Bridget walked over to Andrew, joining in on the conversation by hitting him squarely on the back of his head. "Don't say it like that! Makes it sound like he's kidnapping 'em. That's exactly what DOME wants people to think."
Excerpted from SNEAK by Evan Angler Copyright © 2012 by Evan Angler. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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