Title: The Coterie-Declaration
Author: Richard C. McClain
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2
Dakarai Holt, sixteen, is sentenced to a rehabilitation facility. He unearths a conspiracy imposing mind control with ramifications affecting the U.S and the greater world.
Arrested for hacking, socially awkward and speech-impaired sixteen-year-old Dakarai Holt is sentenced to two years at Sheffield Academy, an exclusive juvenile rehabilitation facility. Within the first two hours, Dak is subjected to mandatory brainwashing. The academy’s enforcers, the R.A.T. SQUADS, patrol Sheffield to ensure each student's full compliance. Gacheru, Dak’s roommate, pressures him to drink a tonic that conspicuously counteracts Sheffield’s indoctrination. This places Dak in the middle of many adversarial and explosive situations. Additionally, Dak becomes knotted in a clandestine plot involving the Secretary of State and a mysterious group who goes by the name, The Coterie. While at Sheffield, Dak must find a way to survive the R.A.T. SQUADS’ terror, the annexation of a remote island, and battle his own inner demons.
It is 04:22:31 on Saturday morning and I'm having trouble sleeping. I sit up and turn the light on to give life to the dark room. Instead of celebrating Gacheru's absences, allowing me space to live on my own and nurture my promise to abort ideas of relationships, worrying about him is all I seem to be doing.
A sound at the door steals my attention. I wait for Gacheru to enter but nothing happens. On the floor underneath the door, an envelope sticks halfway into the room. I pick it up and work my fingers underneath the sealed flap and run my fingers the entire length.
The note reads,
Please put the twenty-five billion back.
I sit on the bed as the weight of the words hits me. Nothing in the words themselves denotes any kind of emotion. Except for maybe the "please." Still, a cursory reading initiates a panic attack in my body. A brown bag sits on the floor. I roll off the bed, hitting the floor hard. I pull the bag to my face, scrunch my body to the fetal position, and rock and breathe…
Who sent me the note? I ask an hour later. As far as I know, the man who accosted me in the computer room and his superiors are the only ones aware of what they think is a hacking mistake. To apprise me of this kind of critical information now when I'm not under the influence would violate Sheffield's environment of covertness.
Revealing such knowledge to me makes no sense.
I read the letter again. The word "please" continues to stand out. Sheffield has not proved themselves friendly on the administrative, teacher, or security levels. Why now would they want me to "please" put the money back? They're the type that would hang me up by my thumbs and torture me to get the information. I exaggerate of course.
This message couldn't have come from them. Which begs the question, who sent me this note?
I sift through short list of names. Gacheru's is the only name on it. Somehow he found out I took it and wants me to return the money. He's the only one I know who's been able to bypass Sheffield's mind control and for whatever reasons considered it important that I not succumb to their brainwashing. Would Gacheru send a note? He could speak to me any time. It's not Gacheru. That leaves nobody.
I walk to the window. Darkness still pervades the night, fighting to maintain control. Daylight is hours away. Since the note can't be from Sheffield or Gacheru, I decide to get rid of the evidence. I rip the area of the paper around the sentence and then stick it in my mouth, chew it till it's soggy, and swallow it.
I lie back in bed when I remember the drinks in the closet. It takes a second to pry the board loose. There is nothing in the crevice apart from a thick envelope and three cans. On closer inspection, all are empty. I put the hollow cans back inside and replace the board. The contents of the envelope are none of my business. I'm not a spy. Gacheru helped me for a reason. To betray him this way reeks of self-interest, the worst kind of egotism.
Lightning strikes my mind. Three cans could only mean one thing. A third person has ingested the liquid and like Gacheru and me, this person is resistant to Sheffield's mind control.
Since Sheffield wouldn't ask me to put the money back except under mind control, and Gacheru could talk to me any time, the person who sent the letter has to be the person who drank the third drink.
Why should I put the money back, especially if we're seemingly on the same side? Wouldn't we have a better chance of stopping whatever it is they're doing and going to do by hitting them in the wallet?
It seems cut-and-dry to me.
While back on the bed sheet I rack my mind, wondering who this third person is. If Gacheru trusts this person, would he approve of the letter? He could have asked this person to send it to me. So why not introduce me? What's the reason for keeping this person's identity secret? As always, my mind considers the worst. If this is a ploy by Sheffield to test whether or not I am still subject to their mind control, seeking out this third person could be nothing more than a trap.
I know three cans means three people are outside the boundaries of brainwashing. I know the third can was unopened more than a week ago. I'm making an assumption here. If Gacheru kept all three cans, this third person ingested the drink after I consumed mine. He would not need to wait till I arrived to give the drink to this person, which means this third person is likely one of the seven people who traveled with me in the van. I'm sure I can nail it down even more. I know this person is aware of the twenty-five billion dollars I stole. By process of elimination it can only be one of three people, and two of them I'm responsible for bringing to Sheffield. Shipley and Jayden. Tasi is the only other person in the room with us when the hunt for the twenty-five-billion-dollar search took place. I can constrict it more. Since I'm in the men's dorm building, it can only be Shipley or Jayden.
The doorknob twists. My heart is catapulted into my throat. Is it the R.A.T. SQUADS coming to drag me away so I can be tortured? Is it Shipley or Jayden?
I hold my breath.