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The Phoenix Project: The Liberty Box, Book 3

The Phoenix Project: The Liberty Box, Book 3

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The Phoenix Project: The Liberty Box, Book 3

316 pages
4 hours
Mar 20, 2017


Only the TRUTH you know can set you free...

The haven city of Beckenshire has been demolished, and most of the rebels lie beneath the rubble. The few that remain scramble to communicate with the the outside world, knowing that if they are to stand a chance in the coming war, they can't do it alone. In a last ditch effort to grow their ranks, the remaining rebels systematically destroy the repeaters which help to propagate the control center signals. And it's working: citizens in targeted cities are waking up in droves. But Ben Voltolini will stop at nothing to quell the uprising before it has a chance to get off the ground. And he has one major ace up his sleeve: Kate Brandeis.

During Kate's broadcast to the nation, Voltolini unleashed targeted brainwave signals against her, causing her to allow both Jackson MacNamera's capture, and her own. Now, despite Voltolini's exquisite wining and dining, she can't seem to stop the panic attacks. Whom can she trust? What is truth? Is there even such a thing?

Meanwhile, imprisoned and hopeless, Jackson realizes the depths of his feelings for Kate only after he has already lost her. The incredible self-control upon which he prides himself gets put to the ultimate test when he meets an unlikely ally who just may turn the tide in the rebels' favor--but only if Jackson can put aside his own bitterness. In this gripping conclusion to The LibertyBox Trilogy, new and surprising alliances are formed, passions run high, and our heroes learn what they are really made of. Do they have what it takes to fight for freedom--even if it means paying the ultimate price?

Mar 20, 2017

About the author

C.A. Gray is the author of three YA Amazon bestselling trilogies: PIERCING THE VEIL (magic and quantum physics meet Arthurian legends), THE LIBERTY BOX (dystopian metaphysics and mind control technology), and UNCANNY VALLEY (dystopian coming-of-age with neuroscience and super intelligent A.I). She starts with some scientific concept that she’s interested in learning more about herself, and then creates lots of epic chaos and high-stakes action to go along with it. Her stories are free of gratuitous violence, language, and sexual content, and she abhors depressing endings... but they’re not all kittens and rainbows either. She also reads and reviews audiobooks on her website (, Goodreads, Instagram, and on her podcast, Clean Audiobook Reviews, where she also occasionally interviews other authors.By day, C.A. Gray practices naturopathic medicine, podcasts, and writes medical non-fiction under her maiden name (Dr. Lauren Deville). She lives in Tucson, AZ with her husband Frank, and together they maintain an occasionally contentious film review blog (under her real name: Lauren Baden. Three names. Yes.) She’s kind of the queen of multitasking—so in her spare time, she creates whatever meals or crafts she found most recently on Pinterest, drinks lots of coffee (Aeropress btw) and occasional wine (reds—and she saves the corks for craft projects), works out (while listening to audiobooks), and studies the Bible—about half of the podcasts on Christian Natural Health are scripture meditations. She does sleep, too. Promise.Join her newsletter for best-of-the-month reads, freebies and giveaway information, as well as new releases!

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The Phoenix Project - C.A. Gray


In The Liberty Box…

Kate Brandeis, former it girl and reporter for the Republic, discovers with the help of her fiancé, hacker Will Anderson, that the Republic is not what it seems. She learns that the Potentate, Ben Voltolini, released a virus encased in the vaccinia vector upon the population in order to render them docile, and then forced all citizens to submit to brainwave identification via stations called Liberty Boxes. He used their brainwave signatures to track their whereabouts, and broadcast signals via control centers to brainwash the citizens into believing they are healthy and prosperous. In reality, Kate finally realizes, many of them are on the brink of starvation and disease.

No sooner does Kate learn this, she hears that Will has been killed, and she knows that she is next. She flees for her life, and comes upon a community of refugees living in caves outside the Republic and struggling to survive off the land. Some of the refugees, the Council, desire a quiet existence. Others, the hunters, hope to awaken citizens of the Republic to the truth and fuel a revolution.

While there, Kate meets Jackson MacNamera. Raised in Iceland, Jackson possesses extraordinary skills of perception which enable him to remain untouched by the control center signals. Using information Will discovered before his death, Jackson and the hunters go back on the grid to locate several citizens slated for slaughter as rebels. Jackson realizes that the Deep Impact bullets used by the agents on the grid are in fact blanks. Yet they still can kill, if the mind believes they are real. He shares this with the hunters, who dismiss the idea with anger. He later shares it with Kate as well. Moved by his passion to help set others free, Kate kisses him. Jackson pushes her away gently, even though he is falling for her too, because he knows she is still grieving the loss of her fiancé.

The hunters’ activity on the grid draws the attention of the Potentate, who manages to track them to the caves. He sends a company of soldiers to destroy the caves. One of the soldiers manages to save about eighty of the several hundred refugees, and leads them to safety.

The soldier, it turns out, is Kate’s supposedly deceased fiancé, Will Anderson.

In The Eden Conspiracy…

The refugees Will manages to rescue include both factions: the hunters, and the Council. The Council, headed by the Crone, assumes authoritarian rule, demanding that the refugees escape to the world superpower called New Estonia. The hunters, including Kate and Jackson, sharply oppose abandoning the citizens of the Republic to Voltolini’s rule. Only a show of superior force enables them to escape the Crone and set off on their own.

The twenty remaining rebels flee to Beckenshire, once a thriving city of the Republic, and now a ghost town due to a nuclear reactor meltdown. Will believes it is now habitable but not covered by control centers, and that is the reason why the Republic still claims that it is not safe.

Along the way, Kate and Will attempt to get to know one another again. Their separation lasted only a few weeks, but during that time, absent the control center signals, Kate began to come into her own. She doubts that Will knows or understands her as she is now. She tells him that she wants to use her fame as a reporter to tell the people of the Republic the truth about Voltolini. Will refuses to allow this: she would need his help and protection, he says, and he will be too busy helping the rebels with their own plans. Privately, Kate decides that she will do it anyway, with or without his consent.

Meanwhile, Jackson teaches Kate to fish, to hunt, to shoot, and to train her mind. Jackson can tell that Kate is falling for him, but he doesn’t want to get in the way of her relationship with Will. He keeps his emotional distance from her, which Kate interprets as lack of interest. Even so, once she admits to herself that she has feelings for Jackson, she realizes she needs to end her relationship with Will out of fairness to them both. Will changes his tune after this, attempting to win her back.

Once the rebels arrive in Beckenshire, they build signal disruptors, or jammers, in order to block the control center signals. The hunters meanwhile determine that the best way for them to disrupt the control center signals throughout the Republic is to destroy the repeaters, the stations that propagate the signals to the outer reaches of each district. These are largely unguarded, unlike the control centers themselves.

While a few of the hunters, including Jackson and Will, head to the nearby city of Friedrichsburg in order to learn the locations of the repeaters, Kate decides to go back onto the grid and attempt to convince her tech-savvy brother Charlie to help her send her broadcast. Jackson, aware of Kate’s plan, follows her from Friedrichsburg. Kate does manage to rescue Charlie from the control center influence, but her parents report her to the agents. Both Charlie and Kate are arrested and taken to the palace to await trial.

Voltolini is aware that Kate has been with the rebels from the time of her disappearance, so she will know their new location after their flight from the caves. He attempts to coerce her to betray them by holding her parents hostage. Jackson rescues all four of them, and because the guards at the palace still use Deep Impact bullets only, they manage to escape unscathed.

As they flee, the Potentate broadcasts the execution of several members of the Council, caught in their flight to New Estonia. Before his death, Uruguay Stone, one of the Council members, betrays the rebels in Beckenshire. Kate, Jackson, and Kate’s family watch in horror as the camera pans to the rubble in Beckenshire. They realize this likely means that all the other rebels are dead.

Voltolini’s agents attempt to recover Kate, Charlie, and Jackson, but cannot find them, because of the signal disruptors. Voltolini decides to try another approach. Since he knows that the usual control center signals aren’t strong enough to influence Kate or Jackson, he commissions his Chief Technology Officer to create targeted signals against their specific brainwaves, programming them to turn against one another.

Kate determines that since they are on the grid already, and she has Charlie with her, she might as well send her broadcast now. It will mean disabling the signal disruptors, and therefore within a few hours, the agents will find them again. It’s a suicide mission, and they know it. The night before the broadcast, Jackson kisses Kate. Until that moment he’d been suppressing his own feelings because of Will. But, he reasons, Will most likely died in the Beckenshire blast—and he and Kate aren’t likely to survive much longer anyway. Kate tells Jackson she loves him. He does not say it back.

The following morning, Kate, her family, and Jackson drive to a smaller broadcasting station in the city of Greensborough. Because of their signal disruptors, some of the staffers there see the truth, believe their story, and stay to help them with the broadcast. Kate then gives their only signal disruptor to her parents, who leave the station shortly before they go live.

Voltolini’s targeted signals against her work quickly. Even as she delivers her message, she wonders whether any of it is true. Voltolini interrupts her broadcast with his own, addressing Kate directly. He tells her that Jackson kidnapped her, brainwashed her, and forced her to say everything she just said. The broadcast team and Kate’s family flee, knowing the agents will arrive at any minute. Jackson stays behind to try to convince Kate to come with them, but Kate refuses to go. When the agents arrive, Kate allows Jackson to be captured.

As they drag him away, Jackson urges Kate to remember she’d said she loved him, and he pleads with her to fight.

Prologue: Will Anderson

I dropped to my knees, a pair of wire cutters in my hands, and went to work. Most of the wires were thick, black, and very well insulated, so it took the combined strength of both of my hands to clamp down. At the first repeater in Crystal City, I’d been careful to find just the critical cable that would disable its ability to amplify the control center signaling to the nearby district of the Republic. I’d even frayed the edges of the wires a little bit and put the corpse of a dead rat beside them, to make it look like it hadn’t been an act of sabotage.

But then I’d seen the broadcast.

Beckenshire bombed into oblivion. And along with it, all the rest of the refugees.

Including Kate.

The last time I’d seen her, she’d been sleeping under moth-eaten blankets on the concrete not ten yards away from me. I’d only half glanced back at her as we crept off into the forest, not knowing it would be the last time I’d see her alive.

Now in Pensington, I wasn’t careful anymore. I cut every wire I saw, and didn’t bother making it look like an accident. Snapping through wires acted as a surrogate for snapping through necks, which is what I really wanted to do right now.

I’d kill Stone for betraying us all, if he wasn’t dead already. If I could bomb the palace and take down the Potentate and the entire Tribunal in one fell swoop in retribution for what they’d done, I would—but even that would be too good for them, I thought savagely. I’d much rather snap Ben Voltolini in half with my bare hands, if I could ever get close enough.

Since I couldn’t, though, I’d have to settle for starting a revolution. The more people we could wake up at once, the better. The twenty-seven control centers across the Republic were too heavily guarded, but we now had a map of all eighty-one repeaters, thanks to our successful mission in Friedrichsburg.

The problem was, there were now only three of us left to destroy those eighty-one repeaters.

Nick, too grief-stricken to see reason after the broadcast, had insisted on going back to Beckenshire to find Molly, even though there was little hope that anybody had survived that blast. Jacob and Roger volunteered to go with him because it was clear he was out of his mind and needed someone to keep him from doing anything rash. And that damn Jackson had disappeared as soon as we arrived in Friedrichsburg—none of us had a clue where he was going or why. We’d never see him again now.

We really could have used his help, too. What a bastard. Maybe I’d snap his neck too, if I ever got the chance.

Think you got ‘em all, said Alec, bemused. He stood over me with his arms crossed over his chest. I’d almost forgotten his presence until he spoke, only then realizing I’d cut every wire in the building and left nothing for him to do but stand there and watch.

I looked up at him, wiping the sweat from my brow, and gave him a curt nod. This little shoebox of a building was barely large enough to house the repeater itself—no windows, no ventilation whatsoever.

Fine. Let’s hit the next one, I said.

Jean waited for us outside, beside the idling car. Alec had hot-wired it like an expert—apparently when he and Kate’s former roommate Maggie had been on the run, he’d acquired a lot of subversive skills that were coming in handy now.

I climbed in the shotgun seat while Jean took the back and Alec drove. We hadn’t gotten a mile down the road toward the next repeater when we came to an intersection with a blank silver screen in the middle of a town square. It crackled and lit up. My heart stopped.

It was Kate.

Jean gasped and Alec swore. I could do nothing but stare at her. She looked cleaner than I’d seen her since before the caves, but for the first few seconds of air time, she froze.

I couldn’t comprehend it. I was elated she was alive, but—how? My mind raced for possible explanations. Is she a hostage? Where is she? Am I dreaming?

At last she smiled, as if she’d won some sort of internal battle with herself. "Hi, friends. I know you’ve been told a lot of things about me since I’ve been gone, most recently that I’m a terrorist and that I am your enemy. I imagine that for a lot of you, that’s been very confusing. You know in your hearts that I am devoted to you. I’m your Voice of Truth, the face you’ve come to trust. I want to honor that trust today, by telling you what I know is true."

I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

This was the broadcast. The one she’d been talking about from the beginning. The one I told her not to do because she’d need me there both to put her on the air, and to protect her, and I wouldn’t go because I also needed to be in Friedrichsburg and I couldn’t be in two places at once.

She went anyway. Suddenly I remembered that when I’d glanced back at her just before we’d left Beckenshire for Friedrichsburg, she’d seemed unnaturally still. When she slept normally, she didn’t snore, but her breathing was rhythmic and loud. I’d had a brief suspicion then that she wasn’t actually sleeping, but thought nothing of it, having no idea why she’d bother to fake it.

She followed us into Friedrichsburg. She must’ve gone to find Charlie after all.

Jackson. He knew she’d followed us, and he went after her. Of course he did. She had to have someone to protect her, and since I wouldn’t do it, the damn white knight rode off to her rescue instead. He was probably in the studio with her right now. Oh, I could kill him…

Kate was saying, When I began to realize all of this, my fiancé at the time, Will Anderson, started to help me with my investigations. I started at my name, and despite everything, it stung to hear her say, my fiancé at the time. He was a computer hacker, and he began to uncover information that confirmed and fleshed out my own memories and realizations.

She thinks I’m dead too, I realized. And why wouldn’t she? She knew we’d gone to Friedrichsburg, but for all she knew, we went right back to Beckenshire afterwards. We might’ve been there when the bombs dropped.

New Estonia, if you are listening, Kate said, we need your help. You are next. As we speak, Ben Voltolini is building control centers on your own soil, disguising them as benign construction projects of which you would take little notice.

Jean whooped out loud, and in the rearview mirror I saw her pump her fist in the air. Go Kate! Yes!

But there was something off about Kate. She had a certain wild, frantic look in her eyes, and beads of sweat dotted her forehead. Maybe it was just the adrenaline of a forbidden broadcast, but I didn’t think so. It looked like she was getting sick.

She went on, The old United States had a Declaration of Independence that said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ Liberty is one of our unalienable rights. You and I have the right to be free—

The screen cut out suddenly, replaced by the face of Ben Voltolini. It took me a moment to register what had happened. He wore a sympathetic expression which made him even more eminently despicable than outright malice might have done.

Miss Brandeis, he cooed. Like the rest of the Republic, I’ve been listening to your broadcast with great interest. While it is obviously well rehearsed and quite articulate, at this point I really must interrupt. You have indeed been brainwashed, my dear, but not by us.

My intestines curled into one big knot. I understood Kate’s fevered expression now. She isn’t using the signal disruptors right now; she can’t while sending a broadcast.

The control center signals are getting to her again.

The Potentate shook his head. Look around you, Kate. What do you see? Is it the dystopian world you have described to the people of the Republic just now? Or is it the world of freedom and affluence you’ve grown up in?

They’ve re-targeted her. She’s being brainwashed all over again.

The Potentate began to go on and on about Jackson: how he’d captured her, how he was the enemy, how he was using her against the Republic. He’d killed members of the Tribunal yesterday.

He had? Somehow we must’ve missed that broadcast.

MacNamera has held you captive for so long now, and brainwashed you so thoroughly, that you believe you’ve actually come to care for him, Voltolini said, apparently directly to Kate now. It’s a well-documented psychological phenomena, and you're not to be blamed for it. But he’s using your feelings for him against you. I urge you to examine your memories with him. See if what I say isn’t true. We care about you, and you need our help. I personally offer you full pardon for your participation in terrorist activities—in exchange for the life of Jackson MacNamera.

The seal of the Republic appeared on the screen, and it went blank.

We had the right of way, but we just sat in the idling car. All of us stared at the now-blank silver screen and did not speak.

Boy, said Alec at last. He wants Jackson bad.

Alec’s words woke me up a little. We have to find her, I said, and pointed at the screen. We have to find out where that broadcast came from. We have to find her before the agents do!

Dude, said Alec flatly. No way we’d get there before the agents. Ten to one they’re already there.

Plus there are only three of us to break the remaining seventy-nine repeaters— Jean began.

I cut her off. I have to find her!

Alec shook his head at me in disgust. Are you an idiot? We already lost Nick to a pointless mission to find a dead woman!

I almost punched him in the face. But instead I said something that I knew would hurt almost as much. I pointed at the screen and said, "If that had been Maggie, would you hesitate?"

Alec half lunged at me from the driver’s seat, and Jean cried out, which seemed to check him. He sat back and huffed, glaring at me with daggers in his eyes.

After a long pause, Jean said in a tentative voice, We can find her location in the control center files. I’m sure she’ll be long gone from the broadcasting studio by the time we can get there, but it doesn’t look like the Potentate intends to kill her anyway. Not yet. So we can just find out where they take her. And maybe we can still break a few more repeaters on the way.

Two against one, I told Alec through gritted teeth. Get me to a net screen. Now.

Chapter 1: Ben Voltolini

Voltolini stood on the roof of his palace beside the helicopter landing pad, hands clasped behind his back, looking at the tiny dot in the sky blossom into his yellow helicopter as it approached. He was barefoot, in linen trousers and an untucked shirt, allowing the breeze to ruffle his hair. For once it was not slicked back, but flopped casually on either side of his face. He wanted to put his guest at ease—to give her the impression that she was at home.

Behind him, he heard a pair of footsteps approach. He did not turn around, but waited for them to stop beside him. They did, and he knew their owner waited for his invitation to speak. He sighed. It had already been such a victorious day. He dreaded to ruin it with news.

Say what you came to say, he said at last, glancing over his shoulder to see Williams, the head of Secret Service.

Sir, I am sorry to inform you that we have lost control in Crystal City and Pensington. Both of them.

This took Voltolini a moment to register. Lost control? What do you mean?

Agents in both places report very strange behavior from the people. More than a few appear to be in a state of shock, unable to function. No riots yet, but fights have broken out in pockets. It seems so far they are fighting each other—they’re just volatile, and they don’t know who to blame. Rioting will probably follow soon, though.

Do we have teams in to diagnose the problem? Voltolini demanded.

Not yet, sir. I just received word and told you before we did anything. I await your orders.

Get Barrett on it, Voltolini barked, referring to his Chief Technology Officer. Have her send two of her best to the control centers, with whoever else they need. Then send platoons to each city to help the agents crush any rebellion, if and when it arises.

Williams repeated Voltolini’s orders into the microphone on his lapel, but when he had finished, he did not disappear.

As the helicopter grew closer, he said, Sir, may I ask what you plan to do with Kate Brandeis?

Nothing right away, Voltolini replied. Eventually she’ll be a weapon for our side, but she’ll need to be watched closely to make sure she stays stable first. That’s why I want her staying in the palace with me. He arched an eyebrow at Williams over his shoulder. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

Williams either did not catch the implication, or chose to ignore it. And MacNamera? he asked. I assume you’ll have him executed on the air and have Brandeis do the voice-over for it.

Of course, but not yet, Voltolini sighed. Williams was all business, all the time. Strong emotions of any kind may destabilize our hold on her. Before we let her back on camera at all, we’ll have to make sure she’s our girl again.

If you’re trying to prevent strong emotions, with all due respect, sir, do you not think it would be wise to keep her away from yourself as well?

No, Voltolini said firmly. "Naturally I will evoke strong emotions too. But above all else, Kate must adore me again. I am the Republic. She’ll desensitize to me quickest if she’s around me all the time.

Besides, he added, even if I thought she was stable enough to leave her alone, which I don’t, her old apartment and her old life would also act as triggers. There would be photos of her fiancé, photos of her parents and brother, etcetera.

So we can’t just send her back and pretend nothing happened, surmised Williams. She’d have too many questions.

"Precisely. I want her to remember what happened to her, but remember it my way: she did go into hiding, and she did start to see the world differently—but only because MacNamera abducted and brainwashed her."

So we have to make sure she has no contact with him, then, said Williams. At least not unless the meeting can be controlled.

She won’t have contact with him, said Voltolini, just as the helicopter hovered over the landing pad in its final descent. I’ll instruct the guards not to let her in to see the prisoners under any circumstances.

When the blades of the helicopter slowed and the doors opened, Voltolini told Williams to send a couple of servants to the roof for his orders. Then he broke into a broad grin, jogging up to the door himself and offering his hand to help Kate descend. She cringed away from him at first, but he pretended not to notice. At last, reluctantly, she placed her hand in his, and allowed him to help her down. He kissed her on the cheek, looking over her

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