Authors: Jaci Wheeler
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Teen & Young Adult
United Trilogy, Book Three
BY JACI WHEELER
Copyright © 2016 by Jaci Wheeler.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: March 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Never be afraid to reach for the stars, you never know when you'll catch one.
Dream big and never give it up.
I believe in you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I can’t believe how fast the last few months have gone. It’s been a complete whirlwind going to visit all of the Zones. I now understand why the Council thought youth would be a benefit. I can’t imagine doing this much in twenty or thirty years. I spent the last several months going from Zone to Zone, meeting everyone and trying to build a rapport. The Council thought it would be a good idea to get my name out there and get known by the people; help earn their trust before I turn their world upside down. It did work and, as exhausting as it was, I’m so glad I did it. Thank God Masters was with me most of the time, and when he wasn’t—Green was. I missed Wes and Molly like crazy and I was worried about Grace the whole time, wondering how she was eating and sleeping and if she was fitting in all right.
I am told to go straight to the Council room when I get back even though all I want to do is climb under the covers and sleep until spring. I am about to walk past Aspen’s office when she calls my name. I do not want to have this out now, especially since I have to face Dex and nine other Council members. I suck it up and turn toward her office door.
“Hey, Aspen, what can I do for you?” I say with a smile on my face, even if it is a little forced. Not that I have anything against Aspen; I think she’s amazing, which is part of the problem. I’m really trying to not succumb to the average teenage jealousy and insecurity I really have, but it keeps sneaking up on me anyway.
“Hi, Roz, I’m so glad you’re back. I know you have to meet with the Council, but do you think we can talk for a quick second?”
This, in fact, is the last thing I want to do prior to facing the Council.
“Sure, as long as I get in there soon.” I step into her office and take a seat in front of her desk.
“I talked to Dex. He let me know about you two and I want to tell you personally nothing is going on between us. Anything we had in the past is just that—in the past. We were young and more friends than anything else. He’s worried he screwed things up with you and I want to try and smooth things over if I could.”
I don’t know why for sure, but the fact they were talking about me behind my back really annoys me. I know she’s trying to help, but I wish people would mind their own business.
“That is sweet of you, Aspen, but really, it’s unnecessary. Whatever happened between you two is between you. Dex and I aren’t together. Whatever we are is complicated and my life has plenty of complications right now, though I do appreciate you trying to put my mind at ease.”
“I want to make sure we are going to be okay.”
“Of course we are fine, Aspen. I really appreciate your friendship and all the help you’ve given me.”
She comes over to give me a hug. “I’m so glad you are here, Roz. You have done an incredible job this past year. I can’t believe it’s already been that long. Are you going to have a birthday party or anything?”
“I’ve been so caught up with the entire Zone tour I haven’t even given it a second thought. I usually have a simple family dinner with Wes’s family and my own.”
“We should totally plan something. I’d love to help you with it.”
While I smile at her enthusiasm, I don’t have any energy left to plan my seventeenth birthday party.
“That is so sweet of you, Aspen, really, but with everything going on that’s on the low end of my priority list. Maybe if everything calms down we can do a party next year for my eighteenth.”
She doesn’t appear upset at all. In fact, she has a huge grin on her face. “Would you be opposed to me throwing one for you? I absolutely love to throw parties and nothing would make me happier. I might even get Wes to be my date,” she says with a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.
“If you really want to. I don’t want you feeling obligated though.”
“Oh please, girl, I live for this stuff! All you have to do is show up. I’ll even come early and get you ready.”
“How can I say no to that? I better get going before I piss off the Council.”
“No problem. Thanks for talking to me. Have fun in the den of despair,” she says mockingly.
I wave and make my way quickly to the Council room and scan in.
The door is open and ten smiling faces greet me. I am drawn to a pair of big brown eyes before I can remind myself to look away. Annabelle is the first to hug me.
“We are so glad you are finally back,” she says, looking me over to make sure nothing has changed. My mother does the same thing.
Samuel quickly pushes her out of the way.
“My turn, Annabelle. No hogging the pretty girl. Hello there, Roz. It’s been much too long since I’ve seen your beautiful face,” he says, hugging me. Dex’s eyes narrow and he scowls.
Amira notices his reaction and laughs slightly. “Okay, Samuel, stop mauling the poor girl. It’s nice to have you back, Rosaline,” she says with a brilliant smile.
“Thank you, everyone. It’s good to finally be back. It was a productive few months, but exhausting doesn’t even cover it. Let’s get down to it, shall we? My tub is calling my name, as is my nice comfy bed.”
“Why don’t you give us a rundown of how everything went and any problems that may have arisen, or any you see as a possibility?” Lucas suggests.
“It was a productive trip. I was able to meet as many people as I could and stayed a week in each Zone, visiting various jobs and schools. I met the people, had dinner in their homes, and watched their children play sports. I really got to know them. I was able to see which people would do well staying in the Zones and those who I think would thrive in the Free Zone.”
“This is all well and good, but from getting to know them how do you gauge their reaction when we drop this on them? Do you think there is going to be widespread panic?” Clarisse asks.
“I think some will worry, though that’s natural. I think we can prevent widespread panic by how we go about telling them. I know you want me to do a live feed, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think people are going to have questions and need reassurance. Obviously it doesn’t make sense for me to go back to all the Zones. That would take much too long. What I propose is a conference here at the Ministry and invite as many as we can hold to come. Those who wish to stay in their Zones can watch the live feed. In each Zone’s community hall I want to have a representative from the Ministry and one from the Free Zone as well.”
I look to Dex. “Do you think it will be a problem finding enough people from the Free Zone to represent the new Zone and answer any questions that might come up?”
He stares at me for a moment in that way that tends to make people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because it is all too familiar. “I don’t think it will be an issue,” he finally says. “While you were gone we named Malik as the rep for the Free Zone. I will talk to him about seeing if he can gather up enough people to represent them in each Zone.”
“That sounds good to me. Let me know the outcome. I’d like to see Zara as one of those people if she will agree. If at all possible I’d like people without families chosen so they won’t be away from them too long.”
I look to the rest of the Council. “Does that sound reasonable to everyone—having a live feed in an auditorium full of people? The people from the Ministry we send will need to be trained, so I will hand pick them. I will also go to the Free Zone or send Molly to train them as well. I think if we are prepared we can minimize the panic greatly.”
Nadine smiles. “Well done, Roz. I think that’s a great plan.”
“I agree, it’s nicely thought out,” Simon adds.
“Thank you. I’m hoping by meeting everyone and earning their confidence, they will trust me when it comes to running the Ministry.
“Speaking of that,” Clarisse says, glancing at Amira, who looks rather nervous, “we have decided that you will need an image consultant prior to making the announcement.”
“An image consultant? What’s wrong with my image?” I don’t remember Clarisse rubbing me the wrong way as much before, but lately every time that woman opens her mouth I cringe.
“You look too much like a teenager.”
“Maybe that’s because I
a teenager.” I can’t help the sarcasm that drips into my voice.
“Yes, well, we want people to feel secure and we decided buffing up your image a bit, making you look a tad older, and giving you a more confident look will help with the overall public view of you.”
She can’t be serious. They want to change my image to make me look older, when they brought me on for my youth? I can’t ever please these people.
“When you say ‘we’, am I taking it that you voted on my look?” Dex and Samuel look worried and uncomfortable, and Annabelle looks downright sheepish. Clarisse nods.
“All right then. What exactly will this entail?”
I’m pretty sure Amira can sense my annoyance and steps in to keep me from going off on Clarisse.
“You are an extremely beautiful young woman, Roz. You carry yourself well and have wisdom far beyond your years. All we are going to do is polish you a bit. Get you some nice clothes, change your hair, and introduce you to make-up.” She says the last comment with a smirk.
“So basically you hate everything about me?”
Though I am trying not to take their comments personally, it’s next to impossible. Dex instantly jumps to my defense.
“Not at all, Roz. You are perfect just as you are. We don’t want to change you.”
“It’s only for the announcement,” Samuel said, trying to smooth things over. “Then you can go back to your own style. You are much too gorgeous for make-up every day.” Nadine, who wears enough make-up for several people, shoots him a glare that makes me laugh to myself.
“Roz, this doesn’t need to be discussed today. We have much more important things that need to take precedence,” Annabelle says.
“I’ll get George started putting together a team of staff,” I say. “Between him and Molly, I’m sure they can be well trained and prepared within the next few weeks. Our biggest concern right now is going to be how and what to tell the staff here at the Ministry. Since we are going to be bringing so many people on board to help with this, I think they need to be told first, then we can go public.”
Everyone in the room looks a little uncomfortable at that thought, but it will be much easier to get it over with than tell groups at a time.
“How do you propose to tell them?” Seamus asks.
“I think the best way is to call a staff meeting in the auditorium. First, I would like to have a lunch with all the directors of every department. I will tell them first and field all their questions. That way, once I tell the staff, they can go back to their departments to answer all their questions.”
“That’s rather efficient,” Lucas says, looking pleased.
“When would you like to do this?” Samuel asks.
“As soon as possible. I’d like to get any opposition and questions that may come up out of the way now. It will also help us know how to go about training our reps. It will be a test run.”
“I must say, Roz,” Samuel says, “we were all a little skeptical how this was going to go down, and you have surprised us yet again with your efficiency and understanding of the people.”
“Thank you, Samuel. Don’t be too impressed yet. We still have to see how this plays out,” I say with a wink, earning me a grin from Samuel and a scowl from Dex.
“When would the lunch take place?” Annabelle asks.
“Ideally, it would take place this Friday. I’m going to talk to Andi about helping Judy get it arranged.”
Clarisse raises her eyebrows. “Doesn’t waste much time, does she?”
I give her a sugary smile. “Not if
can help it,” I reply. I wonder if there’s any chance Clarisse will want to retire soon. I’ve had quite enough of her for a lifetime.
“That sounds fantastic, Roz. Please keep us informed how it goes on Friday,” Amira says.
“Oh, before I forget, I will be stepping down as the Council rep,” Annabelle tells me. At the panic on my face she chuckles. “Just as the rep; I’m not stepping down from the Council,” she says reassuringly. “I’m getting up there in age, and it is a young person’s job after all. Since a lot of people already know Dexter we thought him ideal for the position.”
This means I will be forced to spend even more time with Dex. However, if I remove my emotions, I have to admit he does make a good fit.
“I will make sure to be there with you Friday at this lunch meeting. We can announce Annabelle stepping down and me taking her place as well.” Dex looks at me with a challenge in his eyes.
“Wonderful,” I say, refusing to rise to his bait.
“We can sit down afterward and decide what things should and shouldn’t be said to the general staff after this meeting and where to go from there. If it goes well we can tell them as soon as Monday. If it doesn’t, we will have to regroup and go from there.” I try to sound more confident than I feel. This is the start of a huge undertaking.