What more can you sacrifice than your life?
Parvin Blackwater is dead.
At least that's what the Council and the world thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Now she will rise again. Strong, free, and fearless.
Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world?
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I wake in a coffin.
The beep of my own flatline is fresh in my memory. What's going on? Where am I? Why am I ... not dead?
My arms press against walls of wood. My hot breath rebounds off the underside of the coffin lid, hitting my face. Flashes. Glimpses of memories. I can't remember. Something happened to me — something traumatic. Something powerful. My emotions are drained, but I can't pinpoint why I'm here.
I start. Nothing wakes me more than that voice. His voice.
"God, where are you?" I open my eyes wide, meeting only darkness. "Where am I?"
I am dying right now ... in this coffin. My very breaths tremble. Why can't I remember details?
Another burst of breath. My chest seizes. What woke me? I feel ... startled. Is it because I'm suffocating?
The beat of my heart is frantic, like a trapped bird. My next inhale is thin. There's not much oxygen left in the casket. How long have I been in here?
... am I ...
I flail and push against the coffin lid with my hand and stump. It groans like a slave beneath the weight of a hundred shackles. The cold seeps through the thin walls, through my clothing, and the creak of wood tells me I'm underground.
My elbows and knees knock wood and bruise. I'm lost in my mind. Lost in a coffin. Who would bury me? Alive?
My own voice startles me, rebounding around my ears in this death box.
What do I do? God, what do I do?
The calm that floods my heart brings with it a distant recollection. The last time I lay in His peace, beneath the umbrella of His voice, I was dying. But He's woken me. For ... something. A last prayer, maybe?
Then they come, like a marching troop — memories parading across my mind:
I broke down a chunk of the Wall.
I helped free people from the United States of the East.
The Council captured me — us. Us ... Solomon, Elm, Frenchie, Kaphtor, Cap, Gabbie.
I am Parvin Blackwater.
Where is Skelley Chase, the Council member who helped kill me? Where is Solomon? Did he escape? He can't possibly know the Council buried me alive.
With this thought comes a rerun of the emotions that abducted my heart the last time I was awake. Hope that my friends escaped. Peace in the sacrifice of my life for their sakes.
"I'm alive!" I laugh and then clap my lips shut. There goes more oxygen, but I'm not afraid. I should be dead, which means God had different plans. And that means ...
I'm escaping this coffin.
This is the second time in my life I've willingly embraced death, and both times God responded with, NOT YET. Giddy excitement fills my heaving chest with a thousand mini bubbles. What does He have in store for me?
I squirm in the space. It's roomy — not made for me. My feet hit something lumpy. Ugh, not another body! No, it's too small to be a body.
How does one escape a buried box? I don't have a nanobook to send a message for help. Besides, I have no idea where I'm buried. Help would be too late, NAB or not. I'm not strong enough to lift the dirt, but the Council probably buried me with haste to get rid of the evidence, so they might not have buried me down all six feet.
The Council. They think I'm dead. Once I escape, I'll be invisible to them.
I kick the lump at my feet again, snag it with my heels, and scoot it toward my torso. I need light! This darkness threatens to replace my shaky peace with fear. My knees hit the underside of the coffin, barely bent, but it's enough. I squirm to one side, reaching with my right hand — my only hand — for the lump. Fingers brush canvas.
My shoulder pack.
The Council had it searched and practically emptied when putting me in the cell. Yet here it is. All evidence is buried with me — at least, that must have been their plan. Good thing they didn't cremate me.
If Solomon managed to escape with the others, he's still out there spreading truth. My heart squeaks.
He thinks I'm dead.
He was so brave in accepting my choice to succumb to the Council's torture. For a moment, I allow myself to create a vision of the last time I saw his face. He was crying. Resigned. I mentally wipe the tears from his light skin, turn his squinted, teal eyes into open ones filled with hope and surprise.
I must find him. The man I love.
God. His voice. His presence in my mind reminds me why I'm here. I'm alive and fully His. I'm fully Yours. My agenda doesn't matter. I focus on obeying. Arising.
I hold my breath and reach, pressing my face and shoulder against the rough coffin wood. It creaks as I wrap my fingers around the pack strap. This coffin isn't Father's handiwork. It smells old and breakable. That's a plus.
The minus is that if it breaks, the dirt will cave in on me. I'll be suffocated before I can move. I'm already weak and light-headed. My chest aches.
I yank the pack up the side of the coffin until it's on my chest. The air grows thinner and my breaths more frequent. I'm tempted to panic, but then I remember why I'm awake.
I'M NOT DONE WITH YOU YET.
I smile and fumble with the pack straps. They're tied tight. Without a left hand, it takes me twice as long to get them untangled. I can't angle my head to bite the knot where I need to. There must be something in here to help me escape.
The darkness presses on my eyes, mocking me. I'd laugh back in its face, but oxygen is too precious. I'm dizzy. Or I might be suffocating. Maybe there are still matches in my pack.
Oh! Silly me. I search for the thread-thin metal cord around my left wrist that's causing so much havoc in the United States of the East right now — the Clock telling me the day I'm supposed to die.
It's secure, but so light I barely feel it. With my thumb and forefinger, I press the thickest portion of the wire. A blue screen reveals my underground prison. The projected red Numbers that used to mean so much to me click down, virtually, second by second:
Parvin Brielle Blackwater
That's supposed to be the day I'll die. Thirty-one years, fourteen days, seventeen hours, blah, blah, blah. I don't believe a second of it. Besides, the word glowing beneath my ticking Numbers is what matters: OVERRIDDEN
That's why there's chaos in the USE. These new Clock inventions — stolen from Jude by the Council — have a glitch. They don't tell me my future. What the Numbers do tell me is that I was with the Council just over two hours ago.
I died as they tested my Clock.
The Council was afraid of that — I've proven their new system is flawed. They're going to have to admit it to the public eventually ... and pay the consequences.
If I was buried within the last two hours, the dirt above me will be fresh and loose. I hold my illuminated stump aloft, taking a good look at my situation. I look long at my healed wrist, no longer feeling heart pain because of my missing hand. Funny how a single year can change my perspective.
The lid of the coffin is bowed from the weight. Best to figure out an escape plan before I run out of oxygen. My stomach lurches. Maybe ... maybe God will let me die this time.
I fiddle with the pack flap again. My breathing accelerates and I close my eyes to steady my lungs. Be calm.
One flap comes loose. I thrust my hand into the pack and search. My fingers encounter fabric and fur — the skirt Mother made me. Within its folds, I find a small length of wood — the whistle Jude gave me before he died. Useless, but still sentimental. I blow it, its calm toot! too gentle. No one above ground will hear. As if anyone's up there waiting for me.
Next, my fingers brush over my thick Bible. The pages were waterlogged once, but now they're dried and still readable. The Council didn't know quality when they saw it, searching my pack. Too bad for them. They left me with the one tool that will make me stronger than the most powerful member of the Council — who is, hands-down, Skelley Chase ... followed closely by Elan Brickbat.
I continue the blind search and pass over my sentra — the camera-like contraption that takes emotigraphs — my last gift from Reid. Next, my fingers find The Daily Hemisphere electrosheet. Despite my curiosity at what the Council might be reporting regarding my "death" and the destruction of a Wall chunk, I move it aside and keep searching.
Nothing. Nothing else. Traitorous tears burn my eyes. What did I expect to find? A NAB to signal Solomon for help?
Among the nothingness is a realization that all my emotigraphs are gone — the thin snapshots of emotions taken during my travels to and from Antarctica, leading the people to freedom. Maybe Skelley or Brickbat will feel one of those emotigraphs and come one step closer to understanding my passion and calling toward shalom.
I pull out my Bible and let it rest on my chest. My pounding heartbeat bumps against it, hitting the palm of my hand as if reminding me I'm still alive and to not give up yet. My thumb flips the pages of the Bible in rhythm with my thoughts. The short whoosh of pages sends a breath of wind against my face, as if God is whispering to me: FEAR NOT.
"For You are with me." My thumb catches on a chunk of pages. I tilt my head and open the Bible to that section. I raise my wrist-Clock to see better by its glow. In between the pages, like a bookmark, rests a small silver square about the size and thickness of a matchbook. I pull it out with my thumb and forefinger. On the face of the silver square is a stick figure flexing his muscles.
It's one of Wilbur Sherrod's shrunken enhanced outfits — the Brawn suit. I could kiss that silly Irish man for his amazing tech brain!
Didn't Solomon say that he'd snuck an outfit into my pack? I'd assumed the Enforcers found and took it. But no ... because of Wilbur's new addition of shrinking the suits to small squares, the Brawn outfit took refuge between the pages of my Bible — something no Enforcer will touch.
Their carelessness — and God's sneakiness — is going to save my life.
I laugh now. Loudly. Joyfully. At this point, I care not how much oxygen I use. The Brawn suit enables me to lift thousands of pounds. The moment it's on, escaping this coffin will be like climbing through six feet of cotton.
I set the matchbook on my sternum and press it, despite the achy twinge in my chest. Smooth material slithers across my body, spreading like the world's thinnest — yet most powerful — blanket. Super-strength, here I come.
The suit takes less than a second to cover me. It's secure over my body. With a twist, I roll onto my stomach, loop my left arm around my pack and then push my back against the underside of the coffin lid. It snaps and the foot of the coffin caves in.
Dirt pours into my space and I suck in a gasp of dust. I hold my breath against a cough and grip the strap of my shoulder pack.
But I'm in the Brawn suit.
I yank the collar of my undershirt over my nose and mouth. Should have done that earlier. The breath I take is small, but clean. I cough.
One more inhale, then I launch to a standing position. The movement disturbs the dirt — though I don't feel any resistance because of the Brawn suit. The dirt fills the coffin, giving me a small pocket of air to breathe before more falls around me.
I reach my left arm up. My right still holds my pack tight against my side. The stump of my left hand breaks through to the surface. I move it in circular motions, loosening up the dirt and claw myself free. The moment my head pops out, I wipe my face with my elbow and allow the coughing to take over.
I must be a sight. A handless, famous, "dead" Radical crawling out of a fresh grave. I scan my surroundings. Deep shadows stretch from tree trunks and gravestones onto the manicured grass around me. It's nighttime. No one is here. The only light comes from the Clock on my wrist. My tombstone is in front of my face. Blank.
After catching my breath, I crawl the rest of the way out. I'm careful not to move too much. The medibot inside me has a tracker chip and I'm willing to bet Skelley Chase is watching the tracking screen, even two hours after my "death."
The dirt around me is still dark from fresh digging. I consider smoothing it out so it doesn't look like I escaped, but the two-foot depression from my collapsed coffin might just give me away.
I flop back on the ground and stare at the stars for a long time. Where do I begin with my thoughts? This is a new life. A new me. I died ... and now I'm alive again.
How am I alive?
Why am I alive?
The answer isn't a word or explanation. It's a feeling — a sensation of deep purpose so far beyond my understanding, yet pressed upon my heart.
God has woken me. I am fully and freely His, invisible to the enemy. I have a mission. My own desires barely tug my heart when set beside His calling. In fact, my desires start to parallel His calling. This is what it's like to truly surrender to Him.
Where do I go? I'm here. Send me.
"I knew you wouldn't die." I jump at the man's voice, mere feet away.
I launch into a sitting position and my wrist Clock illuminates two Enforcers resting against a thick Maple trunk. Long black cloaks concealed them in the shadows, but now I make out the backward E tattoos on their left temples. One is asleep. The other — the buzzed redhead with the prominent Adam's apple who, I think, helped Solomon escape — stares at me, eyes wide like mini moons. He straightens, as though trying to be brave, but he's trembling.
My eyes flick to the sleeping Enforcer.
"Don't worry about him," the Adam's-apple Enforcer says. "I can't wake him up. Yet I can't fall asleep. I figured it was because I was meant to see something." He gestures to me. "You."
What can I say? The Council placed guards at my grave. But the guards aren't hauling me off to the Council. That's a start.
"My name's Zeke, by the way."
"Hi," I croak. How to respond? He's an Enforcer, but he was in the room when I died. God, am I supposed to give him a special message or something?
Zeke readjusts against the tree. "Do you ... remember anything that's happened recently?"
It's like he knows about my struggle in the coffin to find my memories. "It came back slowly, but I think it's all there now. I ... The Council killed me, and my friends ... escaped?" Please say it's true.
"Strange." He shakes his head. "You remember things and ... you're not dead. Why is that?"
He didn't deny that Solomon and the others escaped. That's good enough hope for me. I shrug. "God still has things for me to do." I think of last time something miraculous happened — when the wound on my right hand healed over the course of a day in Antarctica. "And ... I have a medibot in me." "What do you think He has for you?"
I died in front of the Council because I needed to. My death proved to them the Clocks weren't accurate. Jude made sure of that when he tweaked the invention. But now ... what is my purpose? God's only woken me. I have no other direction. Should I go find Solomon? He's probably safer without me. My medibot is a tracker. I can't move.
"I'm still deciding." I'm just your everyday girl, crawling out of a grave and not sure whether to go save the world or take a nap. "But my medibot is tracking me. Skelley can see wherever I go. That's a problem."
"Oh." Zeke scratches his E tattoo and glances at the stars. "I don't think your medibot is tracking you anymore." He tilts his head. "This makes a little more sense now."
"What does?" My medibot's not a problem? Is the Council disbanded?
"Your medibot probably restarted your heart after neutralizing the pirate chip toxin. The higher-tech medibots are programmed to expel their last energy to restart one's heart. So it's dead, tracker and all."
Could he be right? Or might this be a trick? I lift my illuminated Clock. "I overrode my Clock, so ... I guess you're right. I must have died."
"You definitely died." His voice is tight. "I've never seen Council member Chase so silent."
Victory. "Wow, God," I whisper.
Zeke maintains my gaze. "I don't understand it — this God thing of yours." He runs a hand through his hair. "But ... I want to."
"Then you know Who to seek." I quirk a smile. "My 'God thing' started with a desperate prayer on a hospital floor, asking Him to do something with my life." Now look at me.
Zeke nods. I close my eyes and take deep, freeing breaths. It is astonishing where God's taken me since then. When I open my eyes, Zeke's head rests against the trunk of the tree, eyes closed and breathing deeply.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Time to Rise"
Copyright © 2016 Nadine Brandes.
Excerpted by permission of Gilead Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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