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Project W.A.R. #1

Ultraxenopia

Ultraxenopia

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Betrayed by family. Tortured by the enemy. Destined to destroy the world.

Ultraxenopia is book one in the Project W.A.R. trilogy.

Don't stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible. These are the rules for survival in Wynter Reeves' world. But when circumstances beyond her control thrust her into the spotlight, her worst nightmare becomes reality.

Minority Report collides with Akira and 1984 in this thrilling apocalyptic dystopian trilogy about a young woman living in a totalitarian society who has a rare illness that gives her the power to see the future.

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID

"I would give this 10 stars if I could! It's got action, suspense, and a smidge of a romance. It's got twists and turns that you will not see coming." ★★★★★

"For fans of dystopia, you'll find the elements that are beloved in every dystopian book...and Phipps pulls each of them off in a brilliant way." ★★★★★

"A truly classic dystopian in that it had the dark totalitarian regime, the bleak atmosphere, and terrifying villains." ★★★★★

LISTEN TO A SAMPLE OF THE AUDIOBOOK

MAIN TROPES

  • Mad Scientist
  • Found Family
  • Slow-Burn Romance
  • Oppressive Government
  • Brooding Love Interest
  • Resistance

SYNOPSIS

Betrayed by Family. Tortured by the Enemy. Destined to Destroy the World.

Wynter Reeves lives by three rules: Don't stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible. In a world where individuality is dangerous, being forgettable keeps her alive.

So, when she begins showing signs of a rare disease, it's only a matter of time before she draws the unwanted attention of the State's sinister research facility, the DSD. Apprehended against her will for testing, Wynter becomes the subject of the mysterious Dr. Richter, who is determined to make sense of her condition. No matter the cost.

However, Dr. Richter's intentions are less than noble, and after months of horrifying experimentation, Wynter jumps at the chance to escape her captors. But freedom isn't what she expected, and as her symptoms worsen, she must make a choice. One that will determine not only her future . . .

But the fate of the world.

Join Wynter as she confronts the daunting truth of her existence, navigating treacherous paths and facing the consequences of defying a society that demands conformity. Prepare for an adrenaline-fueled journey, where deception lurks around every corner and the fight for survival takes on a whole new meaning.

ULTRAXENOPIA is the first book in the Project W.A.R. trilogy.

LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE

“The train is now approaching Central Station. Disembark here for W. P. Headquarters and for access to the Department of Interzonal Affairs.”

I glance out the window. The darkness of the tunnel disappears in an instant, and before I can blink, the train is back above ground. The towering buildings of the capital rush past in a blur, blending into one confused mass of gray. Nothing stands out.

Everything is the same.

Grabbing my bag, I rise from my seat. The movement of the train is smooth and steady, but my fingers grip the nearest pole out of habit. Usually, I do this just to have something to keep my hands busy, so I don’t accidentally fidget. This time, I do it to support my legs, which are in danger of giving out beneath me at any moment.

Taking slow steps, I make my way toward the door. A small group of passengers has already gathered in front of it, their faces blank and postures stiff, ready to start another monotonous day.

Sweat beads along my hairline and under my armpits as warm bodies close in on all sides, keeping their distance so as not to touch me but close enough I can feel the heat of someone’s breath against the back of my neck, each pant keeping in time with my heartbeat. I should be used to this after thirteen years of education and countless weeks of preparation exams. By now, I’m no stranger to the crowds of Zone 1.

But today is different, and relief courses through me when the train decelerates and the doors spring open, flooding the car with a welcome swell of fresh air. An automated voice bellows over the loudspeaker, telling passengers to watch their step while disembarking. Other than that warning, the train and platform are silent. No one says anything. No one forces their way forward to get out of the car any quicker. Everyone is patient. Everyone waits their turn, just like always.

Including me.

Claustrophobia claws at my chest as I murmur the same words I repeat to myself every day. The same words I’ve been rehearsing on a loop since I was five years old. “Don’t stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible.” 

Those are the rules I live by—that everyone lives by.

Those are the rules that ensure we all survive.

When I descend from the train, I’m immediately swallowed whole by an overpowering rush of noise. Footsteps intermingle with the jumbled beeps of turnstiles, combining in a cloud of sound, which echoes like thunder through the station lobby. Keeping my head down, I follow the silent herd shifting toward the station exit, each step nothing more than a sluggish crawl forward.

As I join the procession forming by the glass barriers up ahead, my fingers grope my coat, fumbling in the deep pockets for my government-issued rail card. Once I reach the front of the line, I scan my card across the machine just like I have every other day for as long as I can remember. Just like everyone else before me.

Another beep.

My feet carry me forward when the turnstile opens.

The warm glow of daylight reaches down to meet me as I trudge up the concrete staircase leading out into my birthplace, a massive walled-in city known as the Heart. Despite the cloudless day and hot sun overhead, the biting cold of autumn stings my cheeks. 

A shiver races through me as I stand to one side of the exit to get my bearings and gather my nerves, my eyes flicking upwards to observe the detachment in each of the empty faces around me.

No one who passes says anything to me. No one asks how I am. No one looks at each other. Everyone minds their own business, just as they’re supposed to. Just as I’m supposed to.

Bile rises in my throat, but I urge it back down.

“Don’t stand out. Blend in. Remain invisible,” I whisper under my breath.

Inhaling, I peer down at the silver watch on my wrist, and a mumbled curse escapes my lips when the numbers ignite across the mirrored face, telling me I’m running short on time. I can’t afford to be late.

Not today. 

Crossing my arms, I glance to the east in the general direction of my destination, careful to avoid eye contact with anyone passing. My skin tingles as if it’s on fire, and my stomach twists into an uncomfortable, tight ball at the thought of what this day represents. 

Ignoring the itch of anxiety crawling over my skin, I fall into formation with the crowd on the sidewalk.

The building I’m looking for isn’t far—a few minutes’ walk from the station at most. But with every step, the pounding of my heart grows more violent and my lungs tighten until I’m practically wheezing. I swallow, desperate to cast off the dread gripping me, but the sensation only continues to worsen.

Mere moments feel like hours before my feet skid to a stop. The carved stone of the familiar sign seems to sprout up from the ground like a petrified tree, looming over the spot where I stand with the same threat as the sky-scraping building behind it.

W. P. Headquarters. The workforce placement educational facilities where the rest of my future will be decided after the events of today. I suppose you could say this building is the foundation and epicenter of our society. Every person in this city—regardless of who they are—will intimately know this place. From our early days of education up until our eighteenth birthday, at which time a single exam at this very establishment determines the rest of our lives. Pass and move on to your designated career. Fail and receive a one-year sentence in Detention as punishment for lacking discipline, followed by a lifetime of the worst jobs imaginable—and not only in terms of pay.

I inhale around the rising lump in my throat.

You can do this. You’ve studied. You know what you’re doing. With those reassuring words bouncing around in my skull, I breathe out and step forward through the revolving glass doors.

The interior of W. P. Headquarters is dreary and lifeless, just like everything else in the Heart. The furnishings are all gray, made of metal and glass, and security cameras mark every corner and wall. At least a dozen people stand in front of me, waiting in a line in the vestibule to gain entry to the building.

More beeps. More turnstiles. 

As the minutes pass, a prickle of nerves forms an ache in my legs, coaxing me up onto the balls of my feet then back down onto my heels again. I know I shouldn’t move around. Fidgeting is dangerous. Fidgeting makes me noticeable. And yet, every attempt to stay still is met with opposition from the very atoms making up the composition of my body, as if I can no longer control what it’s doing.

To distract myself from my building unease, I bite the inside of my cheek and focus my narrowed gaze on a television embedded in a wall to my left. On the screen is footage showing the aftermath of a recent fire or bombing. I’m not sure which. I hadn’t heard about an attack, which means it must’ve only just happened today. Some people are screaming. Others are covered in blood. Several corpses litter the ground.

I strain my ears to hear what the broadcaster is saying but try not to seem too interested. Curiosity is also dangerous and a sure-fire way to draw unwanted attention. 

“Thirty-two are reported dead in the devastating attack that occurred an hour ago on a hydroponic factory in Zone 4. Although investigators currently have no leads as to the motive behind the attack, it is believed to be the work of the insurgent group, PHOENIX. Anyone with information regarding the organization’s whereabouts is urged to come forward and report to their local Enforcer unit. Any citizen found to be withholding information or aiding the terrorists will henceforth be branded an enemy of the State”—the newscaster pauses for dramatic effect—“and executed.”

A shiver ripples through me at the words “enemy of the State.” That’s what the government brands anyone who doesn’t follow their rules. All it takes is a single mistake and boom, one-way trip to Termination.

A heavy weight returns to the pit of my stomach as I force myself to look away from the screen. From this point on, I keep my gaze fixed ahead of me.

After another ten minutes of waiting, the turnstile offering access to the building is finally within my reach. The only thing standing between us is a squat middle-aged woman sitting behind a sleek black counter, who signals with a crooked finger for me to step forward.

“Name?” she asks.

I balk under the intensity of her steely gaze, my voice choking out the words, “Wynter Reeves.”

“Identification chip,” she grumbles, holding up a handheld device.

I extend my left arm without hesitation, keeping as still as humanly possible as the gatekeeper moves the scanner over my wrist. A light at the top of the machine turns green. She then grabs my pointer finger and presses it against an upraised metal square on the counter where a needle juts out and pricks me for blood. I don’t even have time to wince before a numbing agent steals away the pain.

“You’re all clear,” the woman grunts, looking around me and signaling to the next person in line.

The gate in front of me opens with a swish, the glass barriers sliding apart in welcome. My stomach turns as I press into the main lobby. The room is empty aside from the balding receptionist, who sits behind a marble counter stretching the full length of the two-story high wall. His head is down, his unblinking gaze glued to the computer in front of him.

“Name and purpose of visit?” he asks before I’ve even reached the counter.

“Wynter Reeves,” I answer in a timid voice. “I’m here to take my placement exam.”

His eyes dart to mine, and he holds out his hand. 

“Identification chip.”

Walking forward, I once again stretch out my arm, biting my tongue as the man repeats the process I just went through. My lungs hold in my breath the whole time as I wait for that little light to turn green. I only exhale when the machine beeps its approval.

I’m not new to any of this, and yet, my nerves are shredding my insides as if I’m five years old all over again and this is my very first time in this building. It probably only feels that way because so much is hanging on my exam.

If I screw this up, my life is over.

Silence is my companion as the man confirms my information on his computer—another check to ensure that I am who I say I am. Once he’s satisfied with what he sees in the database, he hands me a laminated badge with my name and the word ‘Examinee’ typed in bold underneath it.

“The examination is on Floor 5. Reception up there will check you in.”

I cast a nervous glance over my shoulder, following the man’s outstretched wrinkled hand to the elevators at the far right side of the lobby as if I haven’t used them a thousand times before. With a mumble of thanks, I turn from the counter, grateful no one else is around to notice how badly my legs and hands are shaking. 

You have to calm down, I tell myself, running through the mental pep talk I’ve been practicing in front of the mirror at home every day the last week.

Dragging in a faltering breath through my nose, I head for the nearest elevator and swipe a finger across the silver call button. A glowing blue number appears above the steel doors, counting down to my location on the ground floor. The seconds tick by slowly, and while I wait, I use the time to fix the Examinee badge to the front of my shirt. My frazzled nerves make my fingers clumsy, and the badge nearly slips from my grasp several times. After four failed attempts, I manage to clip the pin shut.

I’m only on my own for about thirty seconds before several other students gather around the elevators. I recognize a few from my classes, and based on the Examinee badges clipped to their shirts, we’re all convening for the same reason. Still, despite our mutual purpose for being here, no one says anything to each other. No words of greeting. No whispers of encouragement. Despite sharing this monumental milestone in our lives, every one of us is alone. 

The elevator arrives with a ding, shaking me free from my morose thoughts. Since I was the first to arrive, I enter in front of the others, shrinking into the corner beside the control panel where I timidly press the call button for the fifth floor. The last person to step onto the elevator is an older man with deep brown skin and close-cropped black hair, who swipes a finger across the button for the fourth floor. As he positions himself in front of the closing doors, it occurs to me that I recognize him, although I can’t work out where from. 

After a moment, the elevator ascends, and my eyes drift to each separate floor number as they take turns lighting up above the stainless steel doors, the bright cobalt glow illuminating our metal surroundings. The only other movement comes from the red light blinking like an eye above the dark lens on the security camera in the corner to my right. Although I try to ignore it, I can’t escape the feeling that the camera is watching me.

That the people behind it are watching me.

My heart jumps into my throat when the elevator pings and the doors slide open for the fourth floor. The older man who entered behind everyone else steps off without a backward glance, clearly in a hurry to get somewhere. I watch him storm away, once again wondering where it is I’ve seen him before.

When the doors close behind him, I risk another glance at the camera, the scrutiny of its gaze stronger than ever. Swallowing, I wipe a bead of sweat from my forehead. 

A moment later, the doors open to the fifth floor. As I was the first one in, I’m the last one out, but I don’t mind the wait. Those extra few seconds give me time to compose myself.

I take a much-needed moment alone then step out of the elevator into a busy reception area. I’ve never been on this floor—all my classes were always on the tenth level or higher—although, it looks just like any other part of the building: clinical and cold. Pressing my arms to my sides to keep them from trembling, I join the line forming in front of the counter at the opposite end of the room. Upon reaching the front, I find myself standing before a pretty short-haired woman who looks to be only a few years older than me.

“Name?” she asks.

“Wynter Reeves,” I answer for what seems like the hundredth time today.

She holds out a delicate hand. “Identification chip.”

Once again, I offer my arm and stand still as my wrist is scanned for the chip underneath my skin. The woman smiles when the light on the machine switches from red to green.

“The examination will be in Room Three,” she says. “Follow this hall and you’ll find it on your left.”

With a nod, I turn away from the counter and continue down the corridor to my right. Room Three is situated at the end of the hallway. Five other students are lined up outside the door, waiting to pass through the final checkpoint and gain admittance into the exam room. Just like everyone before me, I wave my wrist across the screen affixed to the wall beside the door. Another beep. Another green light. Unlike the others, at this checkpoint, when the machine scans my chip, the screen lights up with a diagram of the exam room and indicates which desk I’ve been allocated. I study it for a moment then step through the doorway.

My heart hammers against my ribcage as I plop down into my designated seat and hang my coat and bag on the back of the hard metal chair. One by one, the seats around me fill up as the other Examinees file into the space, but, despite the number of students present, the room is eerily quiet. The silence only makes me more unsettled.

My lips twitch. 

It’s going to be okay.

Chewing on the inside of my lower lip, I glance down to assess my desktop. The computerized screen is deactivated, and in the top left corner, a red light burns under the glass, flickering in and out like a flame. Swallowing, I hold my wrist out over the sensor, spurring the computer to life. White floods my field of vision apart from where my name is emblazoned in large black letters across the top of the screen.

WYNTER A. REEVES

Today’s date appears underneath it: October 14th, 2061. A longer number is printed just below that, which reads 73956241. I’d know that number anywhere. Hell, I know it as well as I know my own name. It’s my identification number. The number I was assigned at birth to designate my place in the State. In many ways, that number is all I am.

Other than that, the screen is blank.

A low buzzing draws my attention to the front of the room where a projector flashes a blue-tinted image across the full length of the bare wall. A stern-looking man manifests before us like an apparition, announcing himself to be the CEO of W. P. Headquarters.

As my eyes trail over his features, I see the older man in the elevator whose face I recognized but struggled to place. 

Until now.

I knew he looked familiar.

The way he stares out across the room is unnerving, his expression cold and unwelcome, as if taking the time to speak to us is cutting into a thousand other things he’d rather be doing right now. His gruff, authoritative voice booms around me, sending a chill of fear down my spine.

“The examination will begin momentarily. You will be given three hours to complete it. Anyone who finishes before this time may press the call button to submit their exam. Once you have submitted your exam, no revisions will be allowed. Good luck.” With those concluding words, the projector shuts off.

A breath catches in my lungs when the door to the room snaps closed, locking with a deafening click.

There’s no turning back now. You can do this, I remind myself, although I don’t quite believe it.

An automated female voice screeches overhead, echoing through the space and setting every hair on my body on end. “The exam will now commence. You may begin.”

As silence returns, the screen below me flashes black and then white again, revealing the first part of the exam. My fingers wrap around the electronic stylus attached to the side of the desk, gently raising the pen from its holder, and with a quivering breath, I dive into the series of questions which will singlehandedly determine my future.

The automated voice returns every fifteen minutes to tell us the clock is ticking.

“Two hours, forty-five minutes remaining.”

“Two hours, thirty minutes remaining.”

“Two hours, fifteen minutes remaining.”

The squawking reminders are grating, but I force myself to shut them out and concentrate only on the exam. For the most part, the answers come easily to me, although, there’s the occasional question that seems out of place, as if it doesn’t belong. Are these continuity errors, or are the test makers trying to throw me off—to confirm whether I belong in my projected sector or if I should be sacrificed to the lowest depths of society?

“Two hours remaining,” that annoying voice nags.

Sweat trickles down the sides of my face, and my stomach churns, threatening to bring up my breakfast. I try to swallow—to push down the sudden bout of nausea—but my throat is dry and my tongue is brittle, like old sandpaper, making it impossible. When I blink, my eyes lose focus until my surroundings are an indistinct spinning blur. 

I shake my head to clear it, squinting hard at the screen, but the jerking movement only makes my vertigo worse. 

“One hour, forty-five minutes remaining.”

My lungs tighten as if to suffocate me, but I push through my discomfort, nudging my face a few inches closer to the screen, desperate to complete my exam. 

Terrified of what will happen if I don’t.

My gaze skims over the next hazy question, but only one part of the sentence is clear.

“…end…”

As I repeat that single word in my head, spasms erupt across my body and a strange pressure pushes at me from the inside, as if my organs are about to burst out of my skin. Control eludes me as I writhe in my seat, and I know without having to look that the other Examinees in the room are all staring at me. 

I wish they wouldn’t. 

I wish this would stop. 

I want to continue the test. 

I don’t want to fail.

I don’t want them to see me.

I don’t want to stand out.

A cry escapes my lips and echoes in my ears, ringing in my skull like a bell. Pain floods my head, and a tremor rolls over my hand, weakening my already limp hold on the stylus. 

The world and all sound seem to move in slow motion as the pen slips from my fingers and clatters onto the tiled floor at my feet, the impact acting like a trigger as everything around me abruptly goes black.

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