Jace has been the property of the U.S. Army since they found out about her when she was five, and now she has become one of its most valuable weapons. But Jace is not the only one of her kind. Gray is one too, but with the help of his sister, he has spent most of his sixteen years hiding from the Army.
Now, the Army has found out about Gray and they cannot allow him to roam free. Operating on the theory that it takes one to catch one, Jace is send out with a special ops squad to hunt Gray down. But Jace is not the only one pursuing Gray, and the competition is after her too. What ensues is a desperate chase through city after city as duty and honor collide with love and sacrifice.
14+ for language and violence
“They’re all in there,” Lilly says to me when I arrive at my office, nodding toward the conference room.
“Wish me luck,” I answer. “Don’t be surprised if things get loud.” I intend to let everyone speak their mind.
I pull open the conference room door and enter. Three kids sit spaced around the conference table as if to put as much distance between each other as possible. On one side sits Max, slumped in his chair with one foot up on the table, his unruly brown mop of hair looking disheveled as if he stuck his head in a wind tunnel. Opposite him is Carmen, and Viraj sits at the far end—they’re both seventeen. Viraj’s family is originally from New Delhi; he has black hair and caramel skin. Max is the oldest in the room at eighteen. All of us have been at Cracked since we were caught on testing day.
When I enter the room, they look up at me. I can see a ‘why am I here’ look on Carmen’s face, and Viraj looks nervous, as if he thinks he’s in trouble. Max looks bored. He puts his other foot on the table. It’s a passive-aggressive challenge.
“Put your feet down, Max,” I say in a terse voice. I can’t let him get away this or he’ll never stop. He doesn’t respond.
“If you can’t act like an adult and take your feet off my table, then you can leave. Your call, Max.”
Max grudgingly takes his feet down, but he gives me a sullen look.
“What’s this all about?” Carmen blurts out.
“Yeah, why’d you call me out of class?” Viraj asks, looking around the room.
“Only you would complain about missing class, Viraj,” Carmen says in a derisive voice.
“Screw you,” Viraj responds.
“Todd’s already doing that,” Max says with a smile that drips malice.
Carmen lunges across the table at Max, but Max jumps up out of her reach. I swear under my breath. This isn’t starting out the way I wanted. I thought they’d be at my throat, not each other’s. I hold my hands up in a gesture for everyone to drop their weapons and disengage, but they ignore me. Carmen is now lying on the table her hands stretched out toward Max.
“Surprise,” Max says, “Carmen’s gone horizontal on us, again.”
Viraj laughs and gives Max a thumbs up.
“Everyone shut up,” I yell, but it’s only when I slap the table hard with my open hand that everyone freezes. “Carmen, get off the damn table. You’re scratching it.”
Carmen clamors off the table and drops back into her chair. “Just tell us why we’re here, Jace,” she says in a breathy voice. “Then I’m going to fight Viraj.”
“Me?” Viraj blurts out, sounding offended. “You started it, Carmen.”
This time I put my thumb and index finger in my mouth and whistle loudly. Finally, I think I may be able to grab ten seconds of their attention before they lapse back into their bickering.
“Listen up,” I say in as commanding a voice as I can muster. “You’re here because you’ve been picked to be part of a special team. My team. You’re here because we four are the best at Cracked.”
“Picked for what?” Max sneers, but I can tell I‘ve piqued his interest.
“A special assignment. But before I go any further, we need to clear up a couple of things. First, it’s Captain Moray, and this is my team. I’m in command. That means you take orders from me. If you can’t do that, then leave now.”
Max squirms as if to rise, but he doesn’t. I wait for a long time but it turns out the General is right: Max wants in on this. No one says anything. Carmen narrows her eyes and glowers at me. Now it’s Viraj’s turn to look bored.
“Second, you all know that I’m a real bitch.” Max smiles at this. I continue. “That’s not going to change. Sorry. But, I can promise you this. As of right now, I’m turning the page with each of you. The slate is clean as far as I’m concerned. I won’t bring any baggage with me. No grudges. Nothing. But I ask that you do the same for me and for each other. Clean slates.” I look into each of their eyes. No one turns away. “If you can’t do that, then leave now.” I point to the door as I say this.
Max fidgets some more, but gives me an indifferent roll of his eyes.
“Good. Welcome to the team. Now, what exactly is this all about? For starters, each of you is being promoted to first lieutenant, effective immediately.” Carmen claps her hand and gives a triumphant hoot, while Max pumps his fist in the air. “Also, like me, you’re graduated. But you will still train with your combat instructors individually. Don’t worry. Unlike me, you’re not part of management—so, Carmen, you and Max can still lead the kids.”
When the noise peters out, I lean forward pressing my palms onto the table, and I give everyone a serious look. “Everything I’ve just said, you’re free to tell your friends. Tell your girlfriend. Tell your boyfriend. I don’t care. Everything I say after I finish this sentence stays in this room, with the exception of Leon. This isn’t a game. There will be serious consequences if you so much as talk in your sleep to your pillow friend about anything I’m about to tell you.”