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Kristen Simmons' fast-paced, gripping YA dystopian series continues in Breaking Point.
After faking their deaths to escape from prison in Article 5, Ember Miller and Chase Jennings have only one goal: to lay low until the Federal Bureau of Reformation forgets they ever existed.
Near-celebrities now for the increasingly sensationalized tales of their struggles with the government, Ember and Chase are recognized and taken in by the Resistance―an underground organization working to systematically take down the government. At headquarters, all eyes are on the sniper, an anonymous assassin taking out FBR soldiers one by one. Rumors are flying about the sniper's true identity, and Ember and Chase welcome the diversion....
Until the government posts its most-wanted list, and their number one suspect is Ember herself.
Orders are shoot to kill, and soldiers are cleared to fire on suspicion alone. Suddenly Ember can't even step onto the street without fear of being recognized, and "laying low" is a joke. Even members of the Resistance are starting to look at her sideways.
With Chase urging her to run, Ember must decide: Go into hiding...or fight back?
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Kristen Simmons has a master's degree in social work and is an advocate for mental health. She lives with her husband, Jason, and their precious greyhound Rudy in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the author of Article 5, Breaking Point, and Three.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE Wayland Inn was behind the slums, on the west end of Knoxville. It was a place that had festered since the War, buzzing with flies that bred in the clogged sewers, stinking of dirty river water brought in on the afternoon breeze. A place that attracted those who thrived in the shadows. People you had to seek to find.
The motel’s brick exterior, veined with dead ivy and pockmarked by black mold, blended with every other boarded-up office building on the street. The water was ice-cold when it ran at all, the baseboards were cracked with mouse holes, and there was only one bathroom on each floor. Sometimes it even worked.
It was the perfect location for the resistance: hidden in plain sight, on a block so rotten even the soldiers stayed in their patrol cars.
We met outside the supply room before dawn, when the standardized power resumed, for Wallace’s orders. The night patrols were still out guarding our perimeter and those with stationary posts—the stairway door, the roof, and radio surveillance—were awaiting relief from the day shift. Curfew would be up soon, and they were hungry.
I stayed back against the wall, letting those who had been here longer settle to the front row. The rest of the hallway filled in quickly; if you were late, Wallace assigned you extra duties, the kind no one wanted. The supply room door was open, and though I couldn’t see our hard-nosed leader from my angle, the candlelight threw a thin, distorted shadow against the inside wall.
He was talking to someone on the radio; a soft crackling filled the space while he waited for a response. I thought it might be the team he’d put on special assignment two days ago: Cara, the only other girl at the Wayland Inn, and three big guys that had been kicked out of the Federal Bureau of Reformation—or, as we’d called the soldiers who’d taken over after the War, the Moral Militia. Curiosity had me leaning toward the sound, but I didn’t get too close. The more you knew, the more the MM could take from you.
“Be safe.” I recognized Wallace’s voice, but not the concern in it. Never had I heard him soften in the presence of others.
Sean Banks, my old guard from the Girls’ Reformatory and Rehabilitation Center, staggered out of his room, pulling his shirt down over his ribs. Too thin, I thought, but at least he’d slept a little—his deep blue eyes were calmer than before, not so strained. He found a place on the wall beside me, rubbing at the pillow marks still on his face.
“ Always am, handsome,” came Cara’s muffled response, and then the radio went dead.
“Handsome?” parroted an AWOL named Houston. His red hair was growing out and flipped in the back like the tail feathers of a chicken. “ Handsome?” he said again. The volume in the hall had increased; several of the guys were snickering.
“You called?” Lincoln, whose freckles always looked like someone had splashed black paint across his hollow cheeks, appeared beside Houston. They’d joined together last year, and in my time here I’d yet to see one without the other.
The chatter faded as Wallace came around the corner. He needed a shower; his shoulder-length peppered hair was greasy in clumps, and the skin of his face was tight with fatigue, but even in the muted yellow glow of the flashlights it was obvious his ears had gone pink. One pointed glare, and Houston melted back toward Lincoln.
My brows rose. Wallace seemed too old for Cara; she was twenty-two while he might have been twice that age. Besides, he was married to the cause. Everything else, every one else, would always come second.
Not my business, I reminded myself.
The narrow corridor had crowded with eleven guys awaiting instruction. Not all of them had served; some were just noncompliant with the Statutes, like me. We all had our reasons for being here.
My heart tripped in my chest when Houston moved aside to reveal Chase Jennings, leaning against the opposite wall ten feet down. His hands were wrist-deep in the pockets of his jeans, and a white undershirt peeked through the holes of a gray, threadbare sweater. Only remnants of his incarceration in the MM base remained, a dark half-moon painted beneath one eye and a thin band of scar tissue across the bridge of his nose. He’d just gotten off the night shift securing the building’s perimeter; I hadn’t seen him come in.
As he watched me, the corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly.
I looked down when I realized my lips had done the same.
“All right, quiet down,” began Wallace, voice gruff once again. He hesitated, tapping the handheld radio, now silent, against his leg. I caught a glimpse of the black tattoo on his forearm that twisted beneath his frayed sleeve.
“What happened?” said Riggins, suspicious only when not outright paranoid. His fingers wove over the top of his buzzed, can-shaped head as though he expected the ceiling might suddenly cave in on us.
“Last night half the Square went without rations.” Wallace’s frown deepened. “Seems our blue friends are withholding.”
Pity was a hard sell. Most of us went straight to anger. We all knew the MM had the food; our scouts had counted two extra Horizons trucks—the only government-sanctioned food distributers—entering the base just yesterday.
Houston balked. “If they’re hoping to clear town, they’re outta luck. Tent City’ll starve to death first. People got nowhere else to go.”
He was right. When the major cities had been destroyed or evacuated in the War, people had migrated inland, to places like Knoxville, or my home, Louisville, in search of food and shelter. They’d found only the bare minimum—soup kitchens and communities of vagrants, like the city of tents that had taken over the lot on the northern side of the city square.
“Thank you, Houston,” said Wallace. “I think that’s the point.”
I shivered. Chase and I hadn’t left the Wayland Inn since we’d pledged to the resistance, almost a month ago. If possible, the city seemed even bleaker than when we had last seen it.
“Now,” continued Wallace. “Billy caught a radio thread yesterday on an upcoming draft in the Square. We don’t know when, but my guess is it’ll be soon, and they’ll be offering signing bonuses.”
“I didn’t get a bonus,” someone whispered.
“Rations, jackass,” muttered Sean.
A collective groan filled the hallway. Soldiers using the promise of food to recruit more soldiers. They’d have a whole new army in a week.
“And forgiveness of Statute violations, of course.” Wallace smiled cynically. More groans followed.
Work was slim these days. The only businesses still running required background checks, which meant applicants had better be compliant with the Moral Statutes—a list of regulations that took away women’s rights, mandated a “whole” family, and prohibited things like divorce, speaking out against the government, and, of course, being born out of wedlock, like me. This had always been one of the MM’s prime recruiting strategies. Men who couldn’t get a job because of their record could still serve their country. And even if it meant selling their souls, soldiers got paid.
“What’re we going to do about it?” Lincoln asked.
“Nothing,” said Riggins. “We hit something like that, they’ll smoke out this whole town till they find us.”
I straightened, envisioning the MM coming here, raiding the Wayland Inn. As far as they knew, Chase and I were dead, “completed” in the holding cells at the base. I’d made certain of it before our escape. We didn’t want to give them reason to believe otherwise.
Without looking over, Sean elbowed me in the ribs. I deflated, a shallow breath expelling from between my teeth.
“Quiet,” said Wallace when several people objected. He shook his head. “Riggins is right. They plugged up the soup kitchen for seventy-two hours after last month’s riot. Soon they’ll be compensating anyone willing to sell us out. We’ve got to be smart. Think.” He tapped his temple. “In the meantime, Banks has a report to make.”
I glanced over, surprised, as Sean shoved off the wall beside me. He and I had been up late together scanning the mainframe for facilities in Chicago, searching for Rebecca—my roommate and his girlfriend—who had been beaten and arrested the night I’d tried to escape reform school. He hadn’t mentioned that anything out of the ordinary had happened during his earlier shift in the Square.
“Yesterday on my way back from Tent City, I ran into a guy looking for trouble over by the Red Cross Station,” said Sean.
“What kind of trouble?” Chase’s dark gaze flicked to mine.
Sean scratched his jaw. “The kind that makes me think he was looking to join us. He was trying to convince a group of guys to take out the guards posted at the soup kitchen. Talking loud— too loud. Said he’d been in the base lately, that he knew things about it. I very politely told him to keep it down, and he called me a—”
“What did he know?” I interrupted.
“A lot,” said Sean. “He was just discharged last week. Dishonorably. He didn’t seem too pleased about it either.”
I could feel Chase’s tension from across the hall. A recently discharged soldier could have important information about the Knoxville base, he might even know how to break back in, but what if he recognized us? We’d only been there four weeks ago. He could have been one of those who had beaten Chase or even killed another prisoner.
“It’s a con,” said Riggins. “Banks is getting played. The FBR’s sending in a mole.”
Wallace, who’d been silent while Sean had spoken, cleared his throat. “That’s why we’re going to tail him. If he gets within ten feet of a uniform, cut him loose. I don’t want to take any chances with this one.”
“Then don’t,” I said before I could stop myself. “Maybe Riggins is right.” Riggins snorted as if to say he didn’t want my help.
“You think he didn’t say the same about you when you came here?” Wallace asked.
I felt myself shrink under our leader’s stare. Sean had brought Chase and me to the Wayland Inn with no more than his word that we weren’t going to spill its secrets.
“Besides,” he continued, patting the radio against his leg again. “If this guy can get us access into the base, imagine the damage we could do.”
The following silence was filled with consideration. The MM was stockpiling food—we’d seen the delivery trucks go in—and there were weapons, not to mention the innocent people being executed in the holding cells.
I shivered, remembering how I’d nearly been one of them.
Lincoln and Houston shoved each other excitedly, but several of the others didn’t seem so convinced. Clusters of arguments broke out, which Wallace silenced by assigning a detail to keep tabs on the new recruit. He tasked Sean with bringing him in.
Sean fell back beside me, grumbling something indecipherable. The more time he spent away, the less we had to focus on breaking Rebecca out of rehab in Chicago. Still, Sean was smart enough to know that in order to use the resistance’s resources, the resistance had to use him as a resource, so he did what he was told.
Over the next several minutes Wallace began assigning people to daily duties: patrol, motel security, and finally, distribution of rations. I paused when he gave this duty to the two brothers who bunked across the hall from the bathroom. For the last few weeks it had belonged to me. I’d just gotten used to the routine, and now Wallace was changing things up.
“We’ve got supplies coming in from a raid last night,” Wallace said, and I realized this must have been what Cara and the others were doing. “The truck’s parked at the checkpoint and needs to be unloaded. And there’s a package in Tent City waiting for delivery.”
I still hadn’t gotten used to people being packages. Fugitives were moved for their safety to a checkpoint, a secret location where they could hide until a driver for the resistance, called a carrier, could transport them across the evacuated Red Zone lines to a safe house on the coast. Once we helped Sean rescue Rebecca, Chase and I would be going there, too.
My breath quickened. The checkpoint was across town, past the Square.
Two eager hands rose.
On impulse, I raised my hand. Inventory kept me here, and kept everything on the outside, lurking just beyond the rain-stained windows.
“Miller,” said Wallace slowly. “Right. Miller on supplies.”
Chase’s brows lifted.
I dropped my hand and picked at the peeling yellow wallpaper behind my lower back. Houston whispered something to Riggins, who shot a mocking glance at me over his shoulder.
“What about next door?” Fourteen-year-old Billy spoke up from behind Chase. “You said you’d post me there today.” He shoved a mop of mousy brown hair out of his eyes.
Wallace’s thin mouth drew into a smirk—an expression reserved for the youngest here.
“Billy, so nice of you to join us.”
“I been here!” His claim was cheerfully denied by those closest.
“You been here?” Wallace mocked. “You been sleeping late, I think. You’re on the latrines, kid, and Jennings and Banks will clear the abandoned buildings next door.”
Jennings? Chase was leaving the building? He hadn’t even slept yet. I tried to glance back over to him, but now other people were blocking the way.
Billy’s chin shot out indignantly. “But—”
“How about tomorrow, too?”
Billy threw his head back and groaned.
A buzz, one that made my spine tingle, and the overhead globes flickered with light. Curfew was over. The day had begun.
The hall began to clear. I looked for Chase, but found my path blocked.
“Inventory, huh?” Riggins smirked. He had a sorry excuse for a moustache, which landed directly in my line of sight.
I planted my feet, not about to let him get to me. The guys here were rough, they had to be, and living with them meant having a thick skin sometimes.
“That’s what Wallace said,” I responded.
“Let’s get some food.” Sean tried to move between us but Riggins stopped him with one solid hand.
“Watch out in the supply room. There’s rats, you know.” He grinned, the plucky hairs on his upper lip thinning.
I wasn’t sure if he was serious or just trying to make me squirm. “I’ve seen rats,” I told him.
“Not rats this big,” he said, stepping close enough to force me back again. “These rats hide in the uniform crates. You can hear ’em sometimes. They squeal, real loud.”
Two hands closed around my waist from behind and pinched my ribs. A short scream burst from my throat. When I spun around Houston was cackling. He took off after Lincoln, toward the radio room.
Before any coherent words filled my mind Chase was there, his fist twisted in Riggins’s collar as he shoved him into the wall. Because Chase was several inches taller, Riggins was forced to lift his dimpled chin to return a hard glare.
“Temper, temper,” Riggins rasped.
“What’s going on?” Wallace’s voice broke through my surprise. He had rules about fighting. We were family here, that’s what he always said. All Chase and I needed was to get kicked out, to be out there again running from the MM.
I squeezed Chase’s bicep, feeling the muscles flex beneath my fingers. His grip eased, and finally released.
Riggins smiled before sending Wallace a no-problem-here wave.
“Come on,” said Sean. He grabbed my elbow, towing me down the hall toward where the brothers were distributing dry cereal for breakfast.
Riggins leaned close as I passed. “You actually gonna do something useful today? Or just disappear again?” When I turned around he was sauntering toward t...
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Book Description Tor Books, 2013. Hardcover. Condition: BRAND NEW. Seller Inventory # 076532959X_abe_bn
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Book Description Tor Teen 2013-02-12, New York, 2013. hardback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # 9780765329592
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