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Neurabreak

Book 2:

Project Juniper

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Formats: Ebook, Paperback
Paperback ASIN:
Ebook ASIN: B0D389JF4H
ISBN-13:

About the Book

The battle is over. But the war has yet to come.

JUNIPER and her friends’ narrow escape from the New Realm station revealed something sinister: Phase Three, a new form of mind control, will be unleashed to incite a war. Millions could die.

Including Mino.

Juniper will do whatever it takes to save him. To do so, she must locate Anders Moore, the only person with the means to stop Phase Three. But when Juniper is kidnapped and forced to join the Novayr Workforce Initiative, her plans unravel.

ASTOR vows to find Juniper, even if it means duping his estranged aunt. Along with his friends, he sets off into the city—and soon realizes there’s far more to Novayr than what he’s been told.

The truth is more treacherous than any of them realize.

While navigating this complex web of lies and politics, will Juniper and her friends survive and stop Phase Three in time?

Neurabreak is the second installment of Project Juniper, a thrilling YA/NA cyberpunk series written by Eris Goode. A perfect read for fans of Amie Kaufman’s Illuminae, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, or Marie Lu’s Legend, filled with gritty characters, futuristic settings, and riveting action.

Prologue

AIRCOMM RECORD

ERROR LOG: FAILED TO ESTABLISH CONNECTION

PARTICIPANTS: SUBJECT 8634, SUBJECT 8650

DECEMBER 28, 2517

13:57

After all these years, I’m still trying to reach out to you, even when I know you’re not going to reply.

I’m still sick. There are days when things get bad.

Recently, that’s most days.

I don’t think I know who I am anymore, Juni. I’ve killed people. Have you killed people too? It would be nice to have something in common.

That was a joke, by the way.

I try to picture you on bad days like these, but you’re still the same small child. We’ve both grown up now. I don’t know what you look like anymore, so I have to pretend.

Cahill’s confined me to my room again. That’s fine. I don’t want to go out anyway. Most of the people on this station hate me. They think I’m creepy. Cahill used to say that I’m not, that I’m just different and that scares them.

Nowadays, she doesn’t say much of anything to me.

Not many people do.

If I died, would anyone notice? Would anyone care? Would I care?

I used to try to ‘escape’. I’ve failed so many times. It’s useless—the Enforcers can track me easily, and I can’t escape until I get better. Still, it wasn’t a total loss. I got the information I needed. I have to keep cooperating, just for now.

I have to play the long game.

At least I’ve got my airscreen in the meantime, although I still haven’t gotten a Net connection. Cahill won’t let me have one. Tsuki still tells me all about the stuff she sees on the Net, so I guess that’s about as close as I’ll get to having a Net connection for now. Maybe Eli will help me connect. He, Lazlo, and Tsuki visit me when they can.

Lazlo always brings those dehydrated food packets that I like, the ones that taste bitter like the tea Eli drinks.

Eli lets me help him with his work sometimes. It’s nice tinkering with things. It keeps my mind focused, stops some of the static that clogs up my head.

Tsuki doesn’t paint anymore, which makes me feel really bad. I know it’s my fault she stopped. She doesn’t blame me at all, though. She says what happened is Cahill’s fault, not mine.

Would you be kind and patient, like them? I miss you a lot. I hate you for leaving. Eli says it’s better that you’re not here, and I know he’s right. But it’s not fair.

I feel like if I ever see you again, we can fix all this. Make it all go away. Make them regret what they’ve done. I know you’d understand.

--end comm--

--Error 0x46679: comm failed to send--

Chapter 1

Juniper

The megascreen hums to life for the fourth time this week. Even on the outskirts of the Fray, in the middle of the forest, it’s hard to ignore the giant fritzing thing against the pale, lifeless morning sky.

“A group of radical extremists are threatening the New Realm and the benevolent Mother.

The first thing on their malevolent agenda? Taking paradise for themselves.

They’ll do whatever is necessary to steal the New Realm away from you, from your children. This kind of selfish behavior cannot be condoned!

We have yet to identify the perpetrators, but if you have any information, we urge you to come forward and do the right thing. Your efforts to protect our great nation and the New Realm will not go unrecognized. We must remember the values we live by.

Everyone is Blessed. The New Realm is waiting.”

Scoffing under my breath, I brush aside the drooping tendrils of leaves covering the IRIS II, little flurries of snow tumbling to the ground. Astor and I stole the old thing from Lumina City to travel to the New Realm—and our time there was a disaster.

Astor lies flat on his back beneath the ship, and the sounds of clanking and mumbling reach my ears. Perry, the ship’s AI, is saying something about bluebells in a soothing voice.

I nudge Astor’s boot with mine. He yelps and tries to sit up, hitting his head in the process. With a sob of pain, he slides out from beneath the ship and starts massaging his forehead.

I squat down to meet his gaze, wincing a little. “My bad. What are you doing here so early?”

Astor sniffles and stares up at me with watering eyes. “I could ask you the same thing.”

I quirk my lips into a lopsided smile. “I’m here looking for you, obviously.”

He groans and stands. “Fair enough.”

“Hey, Perry.” I nod toward the ship, although I’m not entirely sure Perry has any visual sensors to witness it.

“Greetings, Juniper. I hope your morning has been going well.”

I sigh and look over my shoulder, eyes drifting toward the megascreen. “As good as it’s going to get, I guess.”

After a pause, Astor hums and pats the smooth metal hull of the ship. His head tilts upward to the screen in the sky as well. “Same thing again, huh?”

“Yeah.” I sigh and fold my arms. “Two weeks, and they’re still going. How’s the leg?”

He mirrors me, leaning back and crossing his arms. “Hm. Almost fully healed. We’re all set to leave for Novayr—uh, as soon as we find a way in, that is.”

The megacreen switches to a talk show. Two men sit on smooth white couches in a brightly-lit studio. Charles Brennan is hosting. Pressure builds behind my temples at the sight. Brennan looks the same as I remember him—muddy brown hair styled back and vapid eyes. The lines of his face, meant to deepen with age, have been smoothed over with some kind of cream, giving his complexion a sticky appearance. At least he looks more lucid this time—the last time I saw him, he was drunk out of his mind at the Neuranet Industries anniversary gala. I’d stolen a copy of his neuranet data, and in his conversations, Hana discovered that the fail-safe was with Anders Moore in Novayr City.

“I care about my constituents. Which is why today, I’m joined by Ethan Valdis, the CEO of Neuranet Industries and owner of the Luminan Herald, who may be able to shed some light on the Fray crisis. Morning, Ethan. How are you doing today?”

“We should invest in some earplugs,” Astor mutters, turning away. “Juni?”

I finally tear my eyes away from the screen and blink, the sight still burning beneath my eyelids. “Mhm?”

“Don’t watch that.”

I just shrug and glance at Astor’s ratty thermal overalls and grease-smudged cheeks. “Sure. What are you doing?”

“Perry’s been teaching me about ship maintenance.” He reaches into the front pocket of his overalls and produces a black, pebble-shaped device. “He even showed me how to back everything up. All of Perry’s data can be transmitted here. Now we can carry him around, install him on different ships or even PAC bots. Pretty cool, right?”

I smile. “Very.” It’s nice to see him looking pleased with himself.

“Astor has quite the natural talent for this work.” The pride in Perry’s voice is unmistakable.

Astor looks bashful. “Ah, I mean, I’ve studied the internal workings of ships since I was young, so I don’t know if I’d say it’s exactly ‘natural’ talent, but—”

“Just take the compliment, Astor,” I scold, nudging him with my shoulder.

A half-smile appears on his lips, and he shakes his head a little in embarrassment. “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, Perry.”

“You’re very much welcome!”

A loud rustling sounds from behind me, and I immediately tense, lifting my hands to shield my face and widening my stance. Astor moves to stand beside me and wields a wrench in his hand, a snarl written across his features.

A figure emerges from the trees and startles upon seeing us.

“Ah! Don’t attack!”

It’s Ida, dressed in her usual coffee-brown apron.

I lower my fists and exhale a sigh of relief. “What are you doing here?”

She holds up two plastic containers and waves them threateningly in my face. “You two skipped breakfast. Of course I followed you here.”

“I-It was too early to eat…” Astor says weakly but accepts the container. “Ooh, jam sandwiches. Thanks, Ida.” He takes a large bite out of his food.

“Thanks,” I say quietly.

After a beat of silence and a mouthful of sweet jam and soft bread, I speak up again. “What do you think we’ll find in Novayr?” The question bursts forth—I’ve been mulling over a potential plan for days now. None of us are familiar with Novayr—the whole place is shrouded in mystery. Even if we manage to enter the city, we still need to locate Anders Moore and figure out how to get the fail-safe from him.

“Not sure.” Astor closes his eyes briefly. “I just hope we get what we need so this whole thing can be over.”

Ida folds her arms. “Can I help in any way?”

I huff a curl out of my face and shake my head. “Probably best for you to stay here and take care of Mino.”

The creases of her forehead furrow deeper, creating a topography of skin.

I give her a reassuring smile. “Trust me, we’ll be back before you know it.”

She gazes at me for a moment, searching my eyes for a hint of a lie. After a while, she nods slowly and sighs. “All right, then. I’ll be heading back. Got to open the inn. You take care of yourselves on your trip, okay? No skipping meals.”

Astor chuckles. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Thanks again.”

I nod. “We will. See you later.”

As her form disappears among the trees, I can sense Astor’s gaze on me.

I glance at him. “What? Is there jam on my face?”

His voice is grave. “Yes. A lot.”

I frown and swipe at my chin and cheeks with my sleeve. “Did I get it?”

“I was just kidding. There’s nothing there.”

“You—“I groan and roll my eyes. “Realms. You’re one to talk—you’ve got dirt on your face.” I poke his cheek.

He pushes my hand away and snorts, then clears his throat. “Actually, I wanted to ask—did you mean what you said to Ida?”

“About us coming back?”

“Mhm. You’re confident we can do this?”

“Of course.” I give him a wry smile. “We kinda have to.”

I won’t let Mino fall under Phase Three again. I won’t let my dad’s work be for nothing.

I ignore the ache that blossoms in my chest at the reminder that he’s gone. That he died saving me. He should be here, not me.

The ache threatens to spill over, so I close my eyes briefly and exhale, letting the thought go.

We’re running out of time—the software virus, the only thing stopping Phase Three from working, won’t hold forever. According to Tsuki’s estimations, only a few days remain before Phase Three goes active and the software virus expires. Mino won’t be safe anymore. And the Blessed on the New Realm station will be sent to Kometu, ready to destroy the country to enrich Astrellune with midallium.

But we don’t have evidence to prove any of this, and Lumina’s propaganda is already working its magic.

The fail-safe is our only hope.

The past two weeks have been spent researching Novayr to the best of our abilities and preparing for the trip ahead. Two weeks of teetering on the edge, watching our backs, dodging shadows because, at any moment, Cahill could find us. Didn’t she keep tabs on me? Why isn’t she doing anything? For now, I’m taking it as a blessing in disguise, but I still feel like I’m drowning in inaction.

Ever perceptive, Astor notices my frustrations and sends me an encouraging smile. “Maybe a short break will help. Take a walk, get some fresh air, that kind of thing. Besides, there’s not much to do until tomorrow morning.”

I hum. “Guess I could do that right now.”

“Want some company?”

He looks hopeful, but I shake my head. “Nah. I need to think alone for a bit.”

He nods in understanding. “Okay.” And then he smiles, a sight that takes me aback in its radiance. “Well, enjoy your walk!”

It feels like eons ago since our argument, since I yelled at him in the middle of the Neuranet Industries gala because of my own idiotic mistake. Since I kissed him. The urge to reach out and wipe the dirt from his face makes my fingers twitch against my will.

I avert my gaze from his smile and turn around, waving a casual hand in the air. “Ha, thanks. I’ll see you later. Oh, and if you get back before me, tell Mino he’s got a handwriting lesson when I return, okay?”

“Sure, I will!” he calls after me.

I look back over my shoulder and throw him an easy grin. “Don’t miss me too much!”

He just laughs and shakes his head before disappearing back beneath the ship. Perry resumes his lecture on bluebells, his voice growing dimmer as I put distance between us.

I begin my trek through the snow, but soon enough, my casual stroll through the forest turns into frenetic pacing around clusters of trees.

Just as I’m about to give up on the idea of a peaceful walk and head back to Lucky Aces, a flash of movement from the corner of my eye startles me. I quickly duck behind a tree and peer around the trunk. Two Peace Department officials drag a young woman through the snow.

What in the realms?

One of the officials looks up, and I flatten myself against the bark, holding my breath. I count to twenty, then sneak closer, moving behind another tree.

The woman being dragged is unconscious, her head lolling this way and that. Upon closer inspection, I get a better look at her face—high cheekbones, shoulder-length dark hair that spills into the snow, tanned skin, and old Frayer clothes.

But what are they doing with her? I can’t just stand here and do nothing.

“Hey!” I call out, ducking out from behind the tree and planting my feet in the snow. “Let her go!”

“Wh—” One of the officials stares straight at me and drops the young woman. She reaches for her waistband, where her gun lies. “Don’t move!”

Fritz. Didn’t think this one through. Idiot.

I start running. My breaths come in short gasps, puffs of hot air disappearing into the frozen sky. Naked trees blur in my vision; frigid wind whistles past my ears.

I tally the people giving chase behind me.

One man, one woman. Agile, lethal, strong—Peace Department officials with the training to show for it. I drop to the ground, sliding underneath an almost invisible wire stretched between two trees. Blood rushes into my ears. That thing would’ve either cut me in half or triggered some kind of trap. A thick layer of snow melts on my knees, soaking through my cargo pants.

It takes me a good two seconds to get back up and running, during which the woman pulls a gun from her hip—an elegant and slender device with a bright blue liquid inside.

Sedative, Class B. One I really wish I wasn’t acquainted with.

The woman with the gun grimaces. Even while we’re both running, I can see her frustration and nerves. She’s got something riding on this. Her job, maybe?

She fires right as I skirt around a tree. Blue liquid explodes in my peripheral. Then, a voice:

“Fritz, don’t waste that! Five shots or less, this stuff is expensive!”

 

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The Series

Neuracode - Part 1

Book 0.5

Neuracode - Part II

Book 0.6

Neurahack

Book 1

Neurabreak

Book 2
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