About the book
In a future where the planet is ruled by the powerful Global Collective Council, and religion is outlawed, Jordan Scott is chosen to attend Global Collective University because of her phenomenal computer skills. Shy and insecure, she has difficulty fitting in with the intelligent, worldly teens at GCU. She joins a secret Bible study and meets Matthew Thomas, a good-looking jock with a big heart. Jordan’s relationship with Matthew grows deeper, and she even manages to bond with her cranky roommate while growing closer to her fellow teammates.
When Christian students mysteriously start disappearing from campus, Jordan stumbles upon the shocking truth—these students are pawns in a government plot, and she’s next on their list. Suddenly, she’s forced into a leadership position as she and her teammates journey from the European Alps to the jungles of Venezuela in a race to save the missing students and stop a political assassination. Fighting fears that have haunted her for years, Jordan battles with the strongest political force on the planet. She believes God placed her at GCU for “such a time as this.” Jordan will have to rely on her faith and friends to save the missing students and foil the evil government.
GLOBAL COLLECTIVE UNIVERSITY
EUROPEAN COLLECTIVE — SEPTEMBER 13, 2062
Jordan Scott pushed through the door of the centuries-old mudroom. She slammed her gear down and took a seat on one of the wooden benches lining the drab stone walls.
What a loser. I got killed in my first mock battle.
The rest of Team Seven streamed in behind her. A few claimed benches and started removing their boots, while others returned their power-play rifles to the gun-rack.
She managed a tired smile as Matthew Taylor knelt beside her. He glanced around, then leaned close. “On the ride back from the mountains, Dorm Master Flynt told me Paul Hobbs left school. He’s gone home to the Pacific Collective.”
Jordan pressed her hand against her throbbing temples, trying to calm the tumble of thoughts bouncing in her brain.
Matthew blinked and brushed a strand of brown hair back from his forehead. Most of the time she enjoyed staring into his ocean-blue eyes and dreaming that he was her boyfriend, but not now. Now fear flickered in the blue depths.
Had Global Collective University discovered their secret Bible study group? Perhaps Paul had been sent home because he was their leader.
“Why would Paul leave GCU? He’s the best computer master here. His grades are phenomenal.” Jordan glanced around the windowless room. Did the other students know Paul had left?
Matthew drummed his fingers on his bent knee, his nails black with dirt. “This morning Mr. Flynt told the boys that Paul got sick in the middle of the night and went to the infirmary. They decided he was too sick to treat here, so they sent him home.”
She chewed her bottom lip while sweat tickled its way down her back. The claustrophobic room enveloped her, the low ceiling hovering near like a thundercloud. Paul wasn’t the first Christian student to abruptly leave Global Collective University over the last few months. This couldn’t be a coincidence.
She grabbed Matthew’s shoulder and leaned close enough to whisper, “Do you think we’re in trouble because of…?”
Matthew’s shoulder flinched beneath her grip. “We’ve been careful. Let’s not panic yet.”
Jordan’s head ached with memories of being recruited to attend GCU, along with other gifted teens from each collective on the planet. She’d hated leaving Old Memphis and moving to the secular European Collective, but could anyone say no to the Global Collective Council? At GCU she’d been content to keep her faith to herself and worship in private until she met Paul Hobbs. Oh, Paul, what happened to you?
“You and me and Timberlyn need to talk,” Matthew whispered in her ear, his breath warm against her neck. “Wait until the others head inside.” He stood and rolled his shoulders, his head almost touching the ceiling crossbeam.
“It doesn’t make sense. Why send Paul home?” Jordan brushed her cheek and dried mud crumbled between her fingers. “The medical technology here is a lot better than anything they have in Old Australia. I played cards with Paul last night, and he never complained about feeling bad. He wasn’t his normally upbeat self, though.”
Rafael Alvarado plopped down next to her. He stretched his long legs across the grey slate floor and used the arm of this T shirt to wipe sweat from his tanned face.
“Sometimes people get sick fast. In the Latin collective, deadly plagues would hit overnight.” He massaged the long red streak on his pant leg and groaned. “Mercy. I can’t believe those laser beams hurt so much.”
Jordan ran her hand around her side, wincing at the pain spreading across her ribs. Dirt and crimson goo clung to her fingers. Leave it to this strange school, a mixture of classical studies and military training, to make pretend combat seem real. She’d been prepared for the oozing fake blood that spurted from their specially designed fatigues but not for the painful electrical shock that had brought her to her knees.
Her roommate, Hannie Jacobson, sat on the bench across from her. Getting out of her combat gear seemed to be her only concern.
“Hannie, I still can’t believe you shot me.” Jordan stuck out her tongue. “What kind of friend are you?”
“The best.” Hannie grinned. “You got to sleep through the rest of the mock battle, didn’t you?” Hannie kicked off one muddy boot and leveled a challenging stare at Rafael. “Of course, since I’m such an excellent soldier and never got shot, I wouldn’t know how much it hurt. I’ll have to take Rafael’s word for it.”
“Yeah, yeah, listen to the wannabe Israeli soldier sitting over there.” Rafael reached over and pulled Jordan’s ponytail. “Copper-top, you certainly made a pretty corpse stretched out on the battlefield.”
She bowed her head, her face growing hot as she removed one heavy sock. There was nothing pretty about these auburn locks that frizzed at the threat of rain, or her tall skinny body.
Rafael grabbed his jumbled backpack and headed to the opposite end of the narrow room where ten silver lockers stood against the wall. Dawson Montgomery and two other team members shoved their gear into the lockers.
Jordan popped open the clips on her camouflage vest, relishing this first touch of freedom. Loud voices sounded. She jumped and craned her neck. What now? She’d endured a rigorous mock battle, gotten shot, and learned that Paul Hobbs had left school. This day had been bad enough already.
Rafael knelt in front of a bottom locker. Dawson Montgomery slammed a top locker shut and stepped closer to Rafael.
“GCU is going to determine our destinies, and you think today’s contest was only a game.” Dawson flailed his arms. “I’ll never win on a team with a computer geek who gets herself killed in the first five minutes, and Matthew, the North American super-jock who can’t shoot straight.”
Jordan blushed. Just like middle school. The last one picked for any team. Lousy at every sport.
Dawson’s face blazed red. “The Israeli chick is the only one who knows how to fight.”
Rafael stood. “What’s wrong with you, amigo?” His Hispanic accent grew thicker with each word. “Calm down.”
Jordan took a deep breath of dank air. The tension of the brewing battle filled the tight space. She broke free of her heavy vest and dropped it on the floor. Matthew pulled her up beside him, while Hannie jumped on the opposite bench and pressed herself against the wall.
Dawson waved his arm in front of Rafael’s face, the Global Collective snow leopard tattoo jumping on his bicep. “And you—you’re supposed to be an award-winning sharpshooter. You’re nothing but a swaggering lover boy.”
Rafael lifted his chin, an odd grin flickering against his swarthy complexion, then shoved Dawson across the room. Matthew jerked Jordan out of the way as Dawson landed beside them. Dawson grunted and jumped up, swinging at his opponent. Rafael dodged each blow then countered with a left hook to Dawson’s jaw. Dawson swayed before recovering and throwing another punch. Rafael side-stepped and danced around like a professional boxer.
A loud thud shook the room as the door flew open, banging against one of the benches. Jordan spun around. The adult leaders, Cimarron and Mr. Flynt, stepped into the mudroom.
“Stop this fighting immediately,” Cimarron ordered, her ever-present computer book in hand. She was old enough to be Jordan’s mother, yet there didn’t appear to be a maternal cell anywhere in Cimarron’s perfectly sculpted body. The woman noted every move the students made and scored them accordingly. She probably graded them on how well they brushed their teeth.
Rafael clutched a handful of Dawson’s shirt, his arm cocked back for another punch. Blood dripped from Dawson’s lips and nose, but he hadn’t yet landed a blow on his opponent. Mr. Flynt pushed past Matthew and Jordan then grabbed Rafael’s fist.
“Stop this now.” The man inserted his pudgy form between the battling boys. “Let go of him, Rafael.”
Rafael clenched his jaw. He growled then let out a deep breath. He released Dawson’s shirt, turned to Jordan, and winked.
That boy could flirt on his deathbed.
Dawson stepped around Mr. Flynt and lunged, shoving Rafael to his hands and knees. Rafael sprang to his feet, ready for more, but Mr. Flynt jumped between them. “No more fighting. It’s over.”
Dawson reached over Mr. Flynt’s shoulder, grasping for Rafael. “Let me at him. I want to finish him off.”
Mr. Flynt held him back. “Do you want to be expelled? Cimarron is reporting every move you make. GCU will not tolerate this behavior. No matter who your parents are.”
Dawson’s hostile gaze shifted from Rafael to Mr. Flynt. His posture relaxed, and he took a step back.
European collective students believed GCU would launch them into important government careers. The rest of the students understood that after graduation they’d be sent back to their collectives to deal with the same poverty, violence, and disease they’d left behind, although they would become administrators, judges and enforcement officials, all stamped with the Global Council’s seal of approval.
“I can understand Rafael behaving like a hoodlum,” Mr. Flynt said. “But I thought you had more sense.”
Dawson scuffed his boot against the dirty floor. “You’re right. For a moment, I forgot who I am. A Montgomery and a scientist.” Brushing his dark blond hair away from his face, Dawson stepped toward Cimarron. “I’m sorry for letting Rafael push me to the breaking point. It won’t happen again.”
“It better not.” Cimarron snapped her computer book shut, the sound bouncing through the cavernous room. “My warning is for all of you.”
She glared at each student. How could someone so beautiful look so menacing?
“I will not allow my team members to behave like wild animals. You’re here to prove that you’re worthy of representing the Global Collective Council all over the planet.”
Matthew cleared his throat, and Rafael stared at the ceiling, while Jordan shifted from one foot to the other. Not even Hannie spoke out as Cimarron’s usually icy composure melted. The woman took a deep breath and tugged on the golden chain around her neck.
“I’ll have every one of you expelled and sent home in disgrace before I allow you to destroy my reputation, or damage me in front of the Global Council. I suggest that each one of you follow all rules and show proper decorum from this moment on.”
Cimarron stalked back into the house with Mr. Flynt following. The rest of the students quietly headed inside. Matthew nodded at Jordan then grabbed Timberlyn’s arm as she walked by.
The door closed behind the last student, and Matthew motioned to the benches. Timberlyn’s brown eyes grew wide, and her full lips twisted into a frown. Her short, tight curls were held back with a decorative African headband that accentuated her chiseled face. They all plopped down on the metal benches.
Jordan had never met anyone like Timberlyn. She could pick up a wild rabbit and cuddle it. Last week, a lark lit on Timberlyn’s shoulder. This ability to tame animals and heal with herbs was fascinating. At fifteen, the girl possessed uncanny knowledge.
Matthew folded his arms across his chest, causing his biceps to press against his sweaty T-shirt. Jordan’s nerves sparked like static electricity, but Matthew’s presence both soothed and excited her.
No matter what Hannie believed, Matthew was not her boyfriend. But she had a humongous crush on him. What girl wouldn’t be attracted to six feet of lean muscle, brown wavy hair, blue eyes, and a crooked smile? They enjoyed spending time together and joked about their younger siblings. Matthew’s voice had cracked when he told her that his mother died when he was twelve, leaving him with a drunken father and two kid sisters. Jordan had never felt this comfortable with any boy, but romantic relationships were forbidden at GCU.
Matthew cleared his throat and patted Timberlyn’s shoulder. “Paul Hobbs was sent home last night. Mr. Flynt says he was sick.”
“One of the girls told me.” Timberlyn spoke barely above a whisper. “Do you think this has to do with our Bible study group?”
Jordan clasped her dirty hands together as her pulse raced. “I don’t think Paul was sick enough to go home. Something strange is happening around here.”
Matthew nodded. “Paul told me that six weeks ago, when the individual teams were being formed, the school’s database of students crashed. Paul volunteered to help Mr. Price get it up and running. He discovered that each student’s religious affiliation, if they had one, was listed by their names. That was how Paul knew the three of us were Christians.”
“It’s scary to think they list that type of information about us.” Timberlyn’s voice shook. “In the African Collective, I’ve seen religious people of all types beaten, starved, even killed. My grandmother had the healing gift. She taught me how to use nature’s resources to help the sick and injured. We were needed in the village, so most people left us alone.”
Jordan scooted back in her seat, her shoulder striking the solid wall.
“Physical persecution is rare in the North American Collective. Religious people in general are discriminated against when it comes to jobs, salaries, and promotions though.”
Her gaze traveled over the closed lockers to the solid floor beneath their feet. This mudroom had stood here watching year after year pass by. How many secrets did it hold?
Matthew shifted in his seat. “Yesterday, Paul told me he’d hacked into the GCU main computer system. He was worried that the school was classifying kids by religion.” His voice cracked, and a muscle jumped in his tight, square jaw. “Paul didn’t tell me what he found, but he said something odd was going on. And now he’s been sent home. It’s hard to believe this is a coincidence.”
Jordan rubbed her eyes. Memories she’d tried to deny for the last two months attacked her. “When I lived in the North American section, before being put on Team Seven, I shared a room with a girl named Zoe. I’ve never told anyone about this, but…”
Matthew leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “You can tell us. I think we’ve proven we can keep secrets over these last six weeks of undercover Bible study.”
Warmth settled in Jordan’s chest then spread to her toes. How does he do this to me?
“Late one night, I heard strange sounds in our room, like people arguing. I recognized Zoe’s voice, but I didn’t recognize the other voice. I tried to get up but couldn’t lift my head. I must have been drugged.” She stopped and swallowed the lump in her throat. “The next day, Zoe was gone. I asked our dorm master about Zoe. She said Zoe left because of a family emergency, and I must’ve had a bad dream.”
“You didn’t believe her?” Matthew asked.
“I guess I did, for a while, but it doesn’t make sense. They barely let us communicate with the outside world. Why would GCU care about Zoe’s family? And Zoe was a very vocal Christian like Paul.” Her voice sharpened with each word. Breathe in, breathe out, in and out. The stale scent of sweat tickled her nose. “I’m frightened now that both Zoe and Paul have disappeared. We should do something, but I don’t know what.”
Matthew rubbed his forehead. “Let’s look at this logically. Maybe Paul did get sick suddenly. It can happen. And Zoe may have gone home for family reasons.”
“That’s possible,” Timberlyn said. “When I roomed in the African Collective dorm, several students left during the first three months. Um, I don’t think any of them were believers.”
Jordan’s mind raced. “A couple of girls from the North American Collective went home, and they weren’t religious.”
“Let’s take it one step at a time, like climbing a mountain,” Matthew said. “Why would this school, or any school, want to get rid of Christians? To quote what Cimarron has said many times, ‘we’re here to learn to work with all types of people, appreciate our cultural differences, and form a new society.’ That doesn’t sound sinister, does it?”
Jordan nodded and massaged the back of her neck. Matthew’s words made sense. He reminded her of her dad, calm and levelheaded. She wanted to believe they were safe, but two of her friends had disappeared. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
Jordan pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around her knees. “We have to find out if something strange is going on around here and help Paul and Zoe if they’re in danger.”
“I agree.” Matthew nodded. “Maybe Paul will manage to send an email and let us know he’s okay back in Old Australia, but until he does… well, I’m going to do a little investigating. Maybe ask Dawson a few questions, since he was Paul’s roommate.” He glanced at the door leading to the house then stood. “I’m heading in. I really need a shower.”
“Do you think it’s safe to continue our Bible study every Sunday morning?” Jordan asked.
Matthew bowed his head and shuffled his feet, the sole of his sneakers squeaking on the surface. “We realized the Bible study was risky, even before Paul left. I think we should continue, but we need to be extra careful.” He looked from Jordan to Timberlyn.
“Um, I want to continue the Bible study.” Timberlyn tugged on a curl that had escaped from beneath her headband. “I feel close to my family in the African Collective because I know they’re worshiping in secret, too.”
Jordan nodded. Six weeks ago, she’d have voted to disband, but she needed this unique fellowship with her friends as they prayed and studied God’s Word. Now more than ever.
Matthew nodded then headed inside. Timberlyn soon followed. Jordan jumped to her feet, but her shaky legs wouldn’t support her. She tumbled back to the bench. I’m more frightened than I thought.
“Oh Lord, I have my nerve to ask You for anything when I’m hiding my belief in You,” she whispered. “But, I’m not a super saint. I’m only sixteen, and I’m really scared. Jesus, please help us find out what happened to Paul and Zoe, and please don’t let me lose another friend.”