SCIENTISTS WARNED IT WOULD HAPPEN.
Meteors devastated the Earth. World Governments developed plans to help surviving citizens. The United States disbanded and salvageable land was divided into four quadrants—North, South, East, and West— governed by The Remnant Council.
Struggling to survive, seventeen-year-old Ava ends up in juvenile detention, until she is selected for a new life— with a catch. She must be injected with an experimental serum. The results will be life changing. The serum will make her better. To receive the serum, Ava agrees to join a program controlled by ISAN, the International Sensory Assassin Network.
While on a mission, she is abducted by a rebel group led by Rhett and told that not only does she have a history with him, but her entire past is a lie perpetuated by ISAN to ensure her compliance. Unsure of who to trust, Ava must decide if her strangely familiar and handsome captor is her enemy or her savior—and time is running out.
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About the Author
Becoming an author happened by chance. It was a way to grieve the death of her beloved grandmother, and inspired by a dream she had in high school. After realizing she wanted to become a full-time author, Mary retired from teaching after twenty years. She also had the privilege of touring with the Magic Johnson Foundation to promote literacy and her children’s chapter book: No Bullies Allowed.
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I ran to live.
Bullets whizzed by my ears. Adrenaline pumped through my body like a high-speed train. I peeked around the corner to confirm no enemy remained, then charged down the hall faster than humanly possible. Justine and Brooke hot on my heels. I halted when I realized Justine had slowed.
"Crap. It nicked me." Justine's long blonde hair screened her face.
"How bad is it?" Metallic scent spiked my senses. I cringed and reached for her arm, but she jolted back and flashed daggered eyes at me.
"I'll be fine. It's not bad." Justine pressed a hand over the wound and snarled.
Blood soaked her shirt and seeped between her fingers. Crimson beads dotted the floor. Hopefully, her shirt would catch most of it.
My jaw tightened. "The hell it isn't. Make sure you don't leave a trail."
Steady the anger, Ava. No time to argue. Since she didn't want my help, I checked my digital watch. Ten minutes left to reach the other side of the building before time ran out with my team. If we didn't end up killing each other first.
Justine liked to test my leadership. I would not let her intimidate me. I knew when to bite back, and harder if I needed to. A charming trait I'd learned from being in juvenile detention.
"Shhh ..." Brooke placed her finger to her lips. "They've stopped shooting at us."
"That's because they can't see us. They went the other way, idiot." Justine smirked, then wiped her bloodstained hand on her pants.
Brooke placed her fists on her hips and glared at Justine. "I was only making an observation. My hearing is awesome right now. Better than usual."
"You're not the only —"
"Shut the hell up. Stop arguing." I sighed heavily. Both of them drove me nuts when they bickered — the possible reason we might fail our mental mission.
As I smeared sweat off my forehead, I listened for the clicking of guns and squeaks on the laminated floor. Then, at footsteps vibrating like thunder, I poised to run.
"We need to get moving." Justine stiffened, her eyes darting every which way. "Where's the freakin' door, Ava?"
"This way. Follow me." I swept the long hallway to my left, then to the right. When I didn't spot the computerized soldiers, I took off toward the left, then halted when the hallway split again.
"Do you know where you're going?" Brooke panted. "We've never been here before."
"I do. Trust me," I said, catching my breath.
Brooke knew I stored a blueprint of the structure in my mind. My mind projected a map in front of me like a hologram, visible to only me when HelixB77 serum had been injected in my system.
As the soldiers' footsteps got louder, their precise location became harder to detect. The sound bounced from wall to wall, echoing.
"They're coming from behind us, too." Justine tapped her foot, rooting her eyes on my watch. "How much time do we have?"
"About four minutes."
So little time. My heart pounded. I needed to go faster. I took deep breaths to keep from freaking out. The image faded as fear took over.
No, no, no. Not now. Focus. Focus. Focus.
Justine pointed at the air vent. "How about up there?"
"Are you nuts?" Brooke gave Justine the evil eye. "I'm not going up there. What are we going to do, crawl our way to the exit door? And what if they start shooting the ceiling? We'll be trapped. We'll be dead. Ava, hurry up. Which way?"
I closed my eyes and tuned out their squabbling voices. Breathe. Stay calm. I inhaled deep breaths, letting serenity wash over me. Then a few heartbeats later, I opened my eyes. There. The image came back.
"The exit is this way." I dashed down another long hallway and stopped at a door bearing a sign for the stairs.
Brooke's eyes beamed hopeful, but her muscles remained rigid. "It's the exit, right, Ava?"
"Yes." My hand trembling, I turned the knob.
It wouldn't budge. What the hell? Yanking didn't help, so I kicked the door in frustration. Pain shot through my leg like an electric shock. I lost precious seconds.
"Move out of my way." Justine knocked the door open with one swift kick, the door now becoming one with the wall.
I bolted down the steps, the ping of dampened gunfire behind me. Faster. Go faster. Power and exhilaration surged in my muscles. As I descended, the footsteps pursuing me disappeared.
Twenty feet from the exit ... eighteen ... fifteen ... so close ... almost there. I could almost taste sweet victory, my heart leaping for joy. Then ...
My watch beeped.
Damnit to hell.
The ground rumbled violently. I slammed against the wall. Justine barked a curse behind me as I braced for another impact.
The blast roared and tossed me in the air. Flames engulfed me, followed by another loud boom. The building groaned and shrieked as it collapsed. I died.
My body jolted. I gasped like a drowning woman breaking the water's surface. My heart calmed when the room came into focus, and then everything cleared. Coming back always felt that way. Disheartened I had failed my team, I slammed back against the black leather chair and gnawed the inside of my mouth.
My damp shirt clung to me and my hands slipped on the armrests. As I wiped the sweat trickling down my forehead, wire tangled around my arm. The red wire monitored my heartbeat, the blue measured my brainwaves, the green checked the level of HelixB77 serum in my body, and the purple monitored my fear.
Justine's loud, hoarse voice reconfirmed I'd kept my team from succeeding the mission again.
"Shit." Justine rubbed the arm where she'd been shot.
Since the mission had only been projected into her mind, she didn't bleed but still felt the pain. Justine tore off the lead tapes. Still swearing under her breath, she stormed toward the door, her blonde hair bouncing with the rhythm of her steps.
"Watch your mouth," Russ said in an even tone. He stood by the large, flat screen that filled half the back wall.
As our training director, Russ observed and evaluated us through these 'mental mission'— or MM — sessions.
"Screw you. Screw the test. Screw the network." Justine quickened her pace.
She seemed taller and leaner in the black, skintight uniform they made us wear.
Here we go again. I released an exasperated breath, imagining sealing Justine's mouth with tape, or perhaps with a stapler.
"I suggest you watch what you say if you want to continue with ISAN. And by the way, you've just lost a point for your team." He shifted his gaze back to the screen.
Justine stopped when she reached the door and gave Russ the middle finger. "I really don't care."
Russ, still looking at the screen, didn't see her lovely gesture. "That's another one for your positive attitude."
"Geez ... is that all?" She stiffened when the automatic door didn't slide open for her.
Dropping to a sprinter's crouch, I thought she'd try to break it down, but she'd only hurt herself. However, I would have loved to see her try it. The small dose of Helix serum she had been given before the training session would have worked its way out of her system already, leaving her without the power to push through.
For one long moment, Justine glared at the door, jaw so tightly clenched her muscles pulsed. Then she closed her eyes, wriggled her shoulders, and straightened her stance.
"Calm yourself and sit down." Russ never raised his voice, though his jaw was set in a tight line.
Beside me, Brooke sat quietly, seemingly in deep thought until Russ replayed our mission on the screen.
"We were almost out." Brooke peered at the ceiling.
She didn't seem to care we'd failed for the third time.
"When can we do it again?" Brooke asked, as if MM was merely a fun game.
Russ didn't answer. He continued inputting the measure of our heartbeats, our brainwaves, and level of our fear into the TAB — technological advance board. He did this for every mental mission to keep track of our progress, individually and as a team.
Justine couldn't peel her eyes off the screen, still scowling. "We needed one more second. We would've made it out. You could've at least given us a weapon."
Russ pushed back his shoulders. "I don't have to tell you anything, Justine, but I gauge how you work with your team in all situations. Sometimes you might not have weapons accessible."
"Relax, Justy." Brooke waved her hand like it was no big deal. "It's not even real. It's all in your mind."
Justine strode over to Brooke, her blue eyes flaring with anger. "Don't call me Justy. Sounds like a guy's name. You may not care, since you and Ava have been out before, but I want my chance. It's my ticket to the mission in the real world." Then she sauntered back to her seat and crossed her arms like a spoiled child.
Brooke studied her fingernails and picked at them. Then she slowly peeled off the lead tags one-by-one, speaking with cool composure. "If I recall correctly, we never failed an MM before you joined the team, so the problem must be you."
Justine held a murderous glare. She jumped out of her seat with fists rounded into balls. I yanked off my tags and lunged forward. Justine scoffed and surrendered. My glower warned her to back off.
I had known Brooke longer and I would defend her with my life, not that Brooke couldn't defend herself. As their leader, I needed to control the situation before it got out of hand. Although I wished it wasn't my responsibility.
"Well, that was productive." Russ lifted his eyebrows. "Justine, you ready for evaluation?"
Justine's shoulders tensed. "Not really." Then her eyes roamed down Russ's tall, lean, but toned body.
I didn't blame her. Besides his drool worthy body, he had an attractive, kind face and a smile that made you feel like you'd been friends for a long time. But Russ and I really were friends, and he seemed to favor me above his other students.
Though I had small talks with him here and there, I wouldn't flaunt our friendship in front of his students, not even to my team. I'd never seen Russ out of control, a quality I admired. He always seemed collected, even when Justine got in her moods. And she wasn't the only one with an attitude.
All the girls had come from juvenile detention or from foster homes. Some had lived rougher lives than others. I could always tell which ones had had it bad.
After Justine's and Brooke's evaluations, Russ instructed them to leave the room. As he replayed the last few minutes of the mission once more, I waited in my seat for him to tell me how I'd failed miserably. Even after months of MMs, I still thought it was cool how the screen could play back the mission like a movie, even though it had happened in my mind.
Russ glanced my way. "Sorry. It'll be a minute. I want to show you something." Grinning, he spun back to the screen and glided his fingers across it.
A few seconds later, he stepped in front of me. Heat rushed to my face. For a moment, he wasn't my instructor but a guy with a nice ass. After months spent around mostly females, my heart turned funny flips around a decent looking guy. I brushed off the sensation, especially since we were friends, and blamed it on being deprived of man-candy.
Russ pointed to the screen. "That's where you lost your one second."
I squeezed the armrest, my stomach constricting. "I don't understand."
I shifted away from the screen, embarrassed. But I did understand. I recalled how I'd let fear encroach on my map image. But hearing those words from him felt like a punch to my gut.
That's where you lost your one second. I'd failed the team. I wondered if Brooke and Justine knew. I hated being a leader. I'd never wanted to be one in the first place. The guilt of failing my team came strong.
Russ closed the gap between us, pushing his face in front of mine. Those twinkling emerald eyes stared back at me. "You hesitated. Why?"
I couldn't breathe with his lips hovering so close to mine, especially when his breath brushed my face. Pleasant shivers rippled up my back, and his musky scent spiraled through my senses.
My instructor. My friend. I reminded myself. Then my mind registered what he'd said. You hesitated.
"I ... didn't ..." I didn't know what else to say when his eyes trailed down to my lips, and then up to my eyes.
Russ backed away, his fingers pushing through his hair. "Ava, are you aware the average human has five senses?"
Duh? Really? He did not just ask me that. Hold your smartass tongue, Ava.
I rolled my eyes. "Yes. You've told us many times." I tried not to sound sarcastic. Once the lecture started, all my inappropriate feelings withered.
"Then show me you understand. Most humans have the potential for more, but all of you here — and you, especially — are more gifted than average people. From what I've seen from the test results so far, the serum brings out the most in you. Everyone gets heightened sight, hearing, and smell, but your location sense is rare. ISAN could use more compasses like you."
He chuckled lightly, but I didn't see what was funny.
Russ continued. "Embrace your inner strength and the powers within you given by Helix serum. Don't second guess, don't let fear make you hesitate, and you won't fail next time."
I hated that word — fail. My face stung. He might as well have slapped me. "So, it was my fault we didn't make it."
Russ shoved his hands into his white lab coat pockets, his expression calm as the steady sea. "Those are your words, not mine."
"Are we finished? May I be excused?" I accentuated each word with a little attitude, and then chastised myself for taking it out on him.
"Yes." Russ pressed his fists on the table with his shoulders slumped.
He didn't need to say a word. His body language confirmed my blame. Needing to release my frustration, I cursed under my breath and punched the black leather chair. Why should I care what he thought of my performance? What gave him the right to make me feel like a failure? I dropped my timer into my chair, then swung my legs over and sprinted out.
I passed a web of gray hallways housing the classrooms where I learned everything from world history to social etiquette. My finishing class instructor, Diana, would have been appalled at Justine's cursing. Justine still had a lot to learn in that department. And so did I.
Peeking into the gym, I cringed as I caught a whiff of stale sweat from the fitness and weapons training sessions. I ignored the grunts and groans from the girls inside the gym sparring and meandered on.
My footsteps squeaked in the empty, cold hallway. Two security guards stood like statues at either end of every passage. Even the juvenile detention center had been better than being locked up with a bunch of weirdos and mad-scientist types.
Though I had been locked away from the outside world before, with all ISAN's rules, I might as well have been back in prison. Not one window existed in the whole complex. Not a single one. Creepy.
What did I expect, though? ISAN was located underground, after all.
I'd had a wonderful life before ISAN with my mom, but unfortunately, she'd passed away four years ago. Foster care became my only option.
I missed my mom. I missed my mom's tender voice, her loving touch. I missed her gardenia-scented perfume, and especially her home-cooked meals. Gone were the days I'd binge movies with her and chat about the love of digital books. The warm hugs and late-night talks had been replaced by curfews and resentful foster-siblings. I'd have given anything to hear her nag about keeping my room clean or see her eyes narrow at me right before a scolding.
The ache in my heart stretched too deep, and I closed myself off. Drowning into an empty heart was better than living with gut- wrenching pain. So, I buried the viselike ache clawing deeper and deeper as every year passed, until I couldn't recall the pang. It helped me move forward and be strong willed. Helped me survive.
But sometimes in my dreams, she planted her favorite flowers on our high-rise apartment balcony. She stopped tending to the roses to smile at me, to remind me I wasn't alone. That she would always be in my heart, my memory, and she would watch after me. And that no matter how deep I buried her, she would surface when I needed her.
Later, I'd run away from my abusive foster family with only a few dollars in my backpack. I'd rather live by myself than have strangers pretend to care about me. Life on the streets had made me grow up fast, and I'd become independent and resourceful.
When you've got nothing, you learn to steal.
I hadn't watched my back one winter night and got caught. Juvie had kept me warm during the harsh cold season, but nothing compared to freedom. Nobody, including my foster parents, had claimed me. Thank God they hadn't.
Russ had come for me when I turned seventeen; I'd thought a savior had come to my rescue.CHAPTER 3
One year ago ...
One of the juvenile detention guards escorted me back to the meeting room after some guy administered a blood test. When I entered, the same blood-test guy sat by a square table for two.
"Ava, do you remember me?" He scooted his chair out a bit and reached inside a black bag.
I recognized his tender voice and his pretty green eyes. "Yes. Your name's Russ."
His neatly pressed suit and grown-up tie contrasted with his youthful face. My eyes kept flashing to the glass of water so close to the edge of the table, but I didn't say a word.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "ISAN International Sensory Assassin Network"
Copyright © 2018 Mary Ting.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One — Mental Mission,
Chapter Two — Recap,
Chapter Three — The Past,
Chapter Four — Dinner,
Chapter Five — Teamwork,
Chapter Six — Guns and Tasers,
Chapter Seven — Second Test,
Chapter Eight — Secrets,
Chapter Nine — Gadgets,
Chapter Ten — First Mission,
Chapter Eleven — Thomax Thorpe,
Chapter Twelve — A Dream,
Chapter Thirteen — The Future,
Chapter Fourteen — Friday Outing,
Chapter Fifteen — Interrogation,
Chapter Sixteen — HelixB77,
Chapter Seventeen — Training,
Chapter Eighteen — Leviathan Hotel,
Chapter Nineteen — Mr. San,
Chapter Twenty — Kidnap,
Chapter Twenty-One — Escape,
Chapter Twenty-Two — Exploring,
Chapter Twenty-Three — Breakfast,
Chapter Twenty-Four — The Compound,
Chapter Twenty-Five — Hunting,
Chapter Twenty-Six — The Journal,
Chapter Twenty-Seven — The Video,
Chapter Twenty-Eight — The Guards,
Chapter Twenty-Nine — Home,
Chapter Thirty — Old Times,
Chapter Thirty-One — The City,
Chapter Thirty-Two — The City Lights,
Chapter Thirty-Three — Soaring,
Chapter Thirty-Four — Goodbye,
Chapter Thirty-Five — Truth or Lies,
Chapter Thirty-Six — Restricted Area,
Chapter Thirty-Seven — Rebels,
Chapter Thirty-Eight — Five Days Later,
About The Author,