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Authors: Silver,Eve

Crash

BOOK: Crash
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UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

HarperCollins Publishers

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Advance Reader's e-proof

courtesy of
HarperCollins Publishers

This is an advance reader's e-proof made from digital files of the uncorrected proofs. Readers are reminded that changes may be made prior to publication, including to the type, design, layout, or content, that are not reflected in this e-proof, and that this e-pub may not reflect the final edition. Any material to be quoted or excerpted in a review should be checked against the final published edition. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

HarperCollins Publishers

..................................................................

UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

HarperCollins Publishers

..................................................................

Dedication

DEDI
TK

Contents

Cover

Disclaimer

Title

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also by Eve Silver

Copyright

About the Publisher

UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

HarperCollins Publishers

..................................................................

BEFORE MOM AND SOFU AND GRAM DIED, BEFORE GRIEF turned me into this needs-to-always-be-in-control kind of girl, I used to love roller coasters. There are those moments as the roller coaster climbs the hill, the ones that take forever, the ones where your heart beats and your breathing speeds up and that clump of snakes squirms around in your gut. Excitement wars with the urge to push up the safety bar and climb off, get off, save yourself before the car you're in crests and any hope you have of escape disappears.

Then the coaster hits the high point.

You can see for miles around.

You can lift your hands and touch the sky.

So you do. You lift your hands and as the coaster tips
over into the long, steep fall, you open your mouth and scream and scream. Half the fun is in the screaming, if you don't mind being out of control, if you're a roller coaster kind of person. But if you aren't, if you're just there because somehow you got caught up in the flow, by the time you realize that this is something you really don't want to do, it's too late, you're trapped, and then you drop.

Carly always hated the drop.

“I don't want to do this, Miki Jones,” she'd say, using my full name, her tone mimicking the one Mom used when she was annoyed with me.

“It'll be fun, Carly Conner,” I'd say, knowing it for a fact in the way that kids do when they aren't old enough, experienced enough, to realize that not everyone feels exactly the same way they do about the things they enjoy.

“For you, maybe.”

“For both of us.”

“I'll puke.”

“You've never puked before.”

“There's always a first time. And I'll probably do it in your lap. It would serve you right.”

I'd laugh and grab her hand and drag her along. She never put up much of a fight once we were in line, maybe because she's always been middle-child-Carly-the-peacemaker, or maybe because once she was in line she knew the inevitable was at hand. She went on with me every time, eyes screwed shut, jaw clamped tight, a look of sheer terror on her face. I know that for certain because we'd
always check the pictures they snap while you're on the ride, the ones they try to sell you for way more than they're worth. There I'd be, smile a mile wide, hands in the air. And there Carly'd be, face white, knuckles white against the black padded safety bar, stoically sitting beside me.

We laughed at those pictures.

I'm not laughing now. I may never get the chance to laugh with Carly again.

On my last mission, the game spilled over into my real life. I need to think about that, figure out how it happened and what it means, but not right now. Right now, there are too many other things crowding my mind. The Drau almost killed Carly at the Halloween dance, when the unimaginable happened and they crossed over from the game into the real world. My world. She survived, somehow waking up alive and unscathed on her bathroom floor, only to end up on the edge of death again a few hours later.

She and Dad were hit by a drunk driver.

They're both lying in the hospital, hurt, unconscious, maybe dying.

But I'm not allowed the luxury of focusing on them and willing them to be okay because the Committee chose this moment to pull me to a deserted factory on a mission to hunt the Drau, and I have to focus everything I have on finding them, killing them, and keeping my con from going red.

I glance at the black wristband with its rectangle of
color, swirling with variegated shades of green. My portable life bar. If my con hits red, if I die in the game, I die for real.

I don't want to die.

I don't want any of my teammates to die either, not Luka or Tyrone or Kendra or Lien. Not Jackson, the boy who pushed his way past the gray fog of my depression, made me feel again, made me care. I love him, in all his flawed glory. I just haven't found the right moment to remind him of that. He's hunkered down just ahead of me, knife in his left hand, weapon cylinder in his right as he leans forward and ducks his head around the corner, checking the wide hallway ahead. He's one hundred percent in the game.

From the second the rest of our team showed up in the lobby—the tree-lined clearing where we start each mission—Jackson locked away every emotion I know he has to be feeling and became the team leader he's been for the past five years. I followed his lead and gave nothing away while we all geared up and got our scores. None of the others have a clue that Jackson and I made an unexpected detour on our way from the real world to the lobby. That never happens. The routine is set: real lives, lobby, mission, back to the real world.

But this time was different.

This time Jackson and I came face-to-face with his sister, Lizzie, in a creepy control room crawling with tiny spiderlike nanoagents that swarmed over her fingers
where they merged with the control panel. Lizzie, those nanoagents, and that control panel were able to pull us just like the Committee.

The thing is, Lizzie's been dead for five years.

So who was the girl wearing Lizzie's face, and what am I supposed to make of the warning she gave us?

The Committee,
she said.
Don't trust them . . . They aren't what you think. Neither are the Drau, the battles, the game.

She talked about not trusting them, but how are we supposed to trust her?

More questions that have to wait for answers, because right now, the dim recesses of the deserted factory beckon and the Drau are out there, waiting for us. Waiting to kill us. I need—we all need—to focus on getting them first.

Jackson's expression is set, his attention focused. He's wearing his cool-calm-collected persona, but I can't imagine there isn't a whole lot of something else going on inside his head. He'll never let that show. His expression, his actions, the tone of his voice . . . nothing gives away the strain that has to be weighing on him. He's team leader, and he carries the responsibility of getting us all out alive.

I need to follow his lead, in more ways than one. I need to lock away my emotions in a box and keep my head in the game. No thinking about Dad and Carly. No thinking about the white room and Lizzie, up to her elbows in creepy nanoagents. No thinking about anything but the mission.

So who can I count on to have my back? I do a quick assessment of our team. Luka and Tyrone seem to have
their heads in the game. Lien, too. Kendra, not so much. She's glued to Lien, their shoulders touching. She's not all here, her expression blank, her thoughts lost in the terrors that bite at her, both real and imaginary. Or maybe she's just shut down altogether, thinking about nothing at all. She's more a liability to this team than an asset.

We can't afford for me to be a liability, too, or we could all die here tonight.

No matter how much I want off this roller coaster, I'm about to tip over into the long, crazy drop.

Jackson leans close to me, his lips brushing my ear as he whispers, “Make it through this, Miki Jones.” That's been his go-to line since the first time I got pulled, like he's giving me an order.

“Yes, sir,” I whisper back past the lump in my throat, my mind dredging up memories of the mission in Detroit, the one where he almost died. “You too.”

“Yes, ma'am,” he says, with a trademark Jackson smile—nine parts cocky and one part sweet. An irresistible combination. He uncurls his index and middle fingers from the hilt of his knife, spreads them into a vee, and points at Luka, then at the ever-present über-dark shades that hide his own eyes. Weapon drawn, Luka prowls forward and rounds the corner of the wall, Jackson covering him.

I force myself to be still as the seconds tick past, fighting the urge to move, to run, until Luka returns without a shot fired. That means the Drau aren't waiting around that corner. But I can feel them somewhere close, fear and
disgust of them imprinted in my cells, a genetic memory.

I'm mostly human, but some part of my DNA—all my team's DNA—shares a genetic link with the aliens who fled a Drau attack on their planet thousands and thousands of years ago. They came to Earth and integrated, passing for human, marrying humans, raising families. The collective consciousness of those aliens now forms the Committee. And the Committee runs the game, pulling kids who are their hybrid progeny to fight against the Drau invasion.

Somewhere back in the family tree of every kid who's been recruited into the game are seeds belonging to an alien or two. Jackson and I just happen to have alien ancestors somewhere way back on
both
sides of our family tree, which means we have an extra dose of alien DNA and accompanying skill sets that qualify us as team leaders. Lucky us.

BOOK: Crash
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