The iCandidate: 11th Installment cover

The iCandidate: 11th Installment

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To begin with Installment 1, please click here.
The iCandidate is a unique interactive thriller about a political reality show to choose a potential President of the United States in which the reader has a key say in how the plot unfolds.
In The iCandidate, eight finalists from all walks of life face the kind of challenges they might have to deal with in the Oval Office:
• Will they use the nuclear button?
• What will they do about ISIS?
• How will they cope in a crisis?
At the end of each round the reader gets to cast an iVote to help determine who stays and who goes home. It is democracy in its purest form, free from party loyalties, donor obligations and antiquated electoral practices.
In the novel, serialized weekly on NoteStream, the eventual people’s champion goes on to challenge the political establishment in an iCampaign for the presidency climaxing in an explosive finale in Washington on November 8.
But The iCandidate has even greater aspirations to trigger a revolution in the way America selects the most powerful man or woman on the planet.
Change America one iVote at a time by choosing your iCandidate.
Join the NoteStream Book Club iCandidate: Looking For Heroes – Election 2016 and cast your in-app iVote to save your favorite iCandidates!
Check out the release of a second unique contemporary novel - DIVAS by Bill Wagner!


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars on 1 review




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The iCandidate: 11th Installment

Chapter 23 – Worlds Apart

Karachi, Pakistan:

Ayesha sat cross-legged on the floor opposite her mother. A giant bowl of shrimp filled the space between them as they worked silently peeling. As she grew older, Ayesha’s fingers grew clumsier; she was slower now than she was as a child.

She was four when she was first wrestled from her sleep before dawn in Karachi’s Machar Colony; even now she could recall the choking fish smell from the docks. Everyday before school, Ayesha would pick away the shells until her hands were raw. Only when she went to college was she forgiven the chore, and only because her baby sister had softer, quicker hands.

A Different World

Image by Bilalhassan88, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A Different World

In her three years at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Ayesha hadn’t been home to Karachi. It was sacrifice enough for her family that she wasn’t earning any money to help feed her siblings; she certainly wasn’t going to ask for the fare home.

Firsts

She was the first woman in her neighborhood to graduate high school, the first to go to university. At 25, Ayesha knew her mother hoped her eldest daughter would come home to the Colony when her studies were done and have her own children to bring down to the docks.

Now Ayesha sat across from her mother in the half-light wondering how to tell her she wanted a different life.

She had been home for six days but every time she tried to talk about the future her mother made some excuse. Here, at least in the familiar gloom of the concrete, windowless room behind the dock, there was no escape.

Scholarship

“It’s not like I’m not grateful,” she said, her head bowed over the basket of wet shrimp. “But there’s this amazing opportunity I have to tell you about.”

The older woman, her graying hair tied tightly back off her deeply lined face didn’t look up as Ayesha stumbled on.

“I’ve got a scholarship to study in America. At Harvard.”

The only sign her mother heard her was a momentary pause before she reached in for another shrimp.

“It’s for a year, for my Masters.” Ayesha kept talking, desperately trying to fill the silence.

Ivy League

“Everything would be paid for by this non-profit; it’s like an exchange program. I get to go to the United States to study and an American kid comes here.”

Still nothing from the old woman.“Harvard is one of the world’s top universities. It’s Ivy League.”

Her mother couldn’t even read the bus number. The only way she knew which one to take was because the driver was her brother. She wouldn’t know anything about Ivy League.

“I have to go. Mom, I have to.”

A Promise

Ayesha’s voice fell away and she put her hands up to her face, drowning her senses with her childhood. Her lips quivered and hot tears streamed down her cheeks; and still, her mother said nothing, toiling away over her basket.

“I have to go.”

Ayesha meant she couldn’t sit there any longer and got up. But she meant what she said. She was leaving whatever.

“I’ll send money back, I promise,” she said, looking back over shoulder as she slowly walked away.

Chapter 24 - Field Trip

The only thing The iCandidate contestants were told when they boarded the plane was that they were being taken to a military air base. The location was top secret, but the hours spent on the plane gave them the impression they were no longer in the United States.

Kristoff made them leave their watches and cellphones behind to add to their sense of disorientation.

They landed in a bleak landscape with desert as far as the eye could see. There was a cluster of tents and outbuildings around two or three big hangars and a control tower. Three officers came up and saluted without introducing themselves.

Qamishli

Qamishli

“Each team will go with one of the Army officers,” Kristoff announced.

“Can I ask where we are?” Cameron turned to the soldiers. “It doesn’t look like the Caribbean.”

“You are in Kurdish-controlled Northern Syria,” one of the soldiers said. “On behalf of the 101st Airborne Division, I am happy to welcome the iCandidates to Qamishli.”

Safe...

“Jesus,” Grace said. “I guess this is getting serious. How safe is it here? Just asking...”

“It should be perfectly safe, particularly as the gate guard has been doubled tonight for our important guests.”

“Who are they?” Cameron asked.

“You are, my friend. All of you,” said Kristoff, “which is all the more reason for us to be careful. Just keep your heads down.”

Gillian lagged behind and Grace fell back, she could tell something wasn’t right.

“You okay?”

“I will be in a second. Just looking for something.” Gillian had her head in her bag, obviously fighting back tears.

Shock

“Here, have a drink.”

She took a sip of water and handed the bottle back to Grace. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Her hands were shaking.

“You can do this, Gillian. But you’re going to have to give me a clue here so I can help.”

Kristoff was looking back wondering what was going on as he waited to brief them all for the challenge. Grace held up a hand to gesture they would just be a second.

“What is it, Gillian?” Grace tried again.

“It’s just a bit of a shock – being at a military camp over here.

“Why?” Grace’s voice was gentle.

Lost

“Because, Neil, Clara’s dad, was deployed in Afghanistan and…well…he never made it home. He was my husband, my best friend, the love of my life.”

“Oh, Gillian, I am so sorry.”

Grace moved to hug her but Gillian shook her head.

“No, not here. I need to hold it together. I’m okay, really. Thank you, Grace.”

Before they could say anything else, Kristoff put them in teams and sent them off with their guides. “You’ll be told what to do,” he said.

They had to almost run to keep up with the soldiers and were led to three separate tents in a corner of the camp that was surprisingly quiet considering the number of troops.

Chapter 25 - Hurting

A sharp wind blew across campus as Emily headed towards Ayesha’s dorm building. The student’s mood had rubbed off on her and she found herself thinking about the misery of those last few days in New York, a lifetime ago. All she had wanted to do then was get home, and she recognized the same look now in Ayesha’s dull eyes.

She was about to open the door to the residence hall when she spotted Ayesha across the quad, sitting on a bench by the South Gate. If anything, she looked smaller and more cowed than she had that morning.

Tears

Tears

“Well, hello. Do you mind if I join you?” It wasn’t until Emily was sitting down that she noticed Ayesha was crying. She instinctively put her arms around the sobbing girl and pulled her in. “I know it’s hard being so far from your family,” she said. “But you’re safe here. You really are. I’m here for you.”

Something Happened

Ayesha sobbed into Emily’s chest. “I’m so sorry,” she said, gasping. “I don’t know what’s happened to me.”

It was the first time Emily had heard her speak and she was surprised by how good Ayesha’s English was.

“Something happened and it really hurt me. I haven’t been able to hold it together since. I don’t understand why.”

“Did someone hurt you?” Emily was shocked. This would explain everything.

“Nothing like that. But there is a boy. Well, a man…”

Chapter 26 - Harvard

Back home, Ayesha had defied the hard looks she got from women who criticized her for refusing to wear a veil over her straight, black hair that fell to her waist. She considered herself a good Muslim, but refused to accept she be treated less than a man—particularly when many of the colony men tried to undress her with their eyes.

But in America she was grateful to hide her face behind her niqab. Everything was so alien here: from the snow, piled high on the Cambridge sidewalk, to the gurgling warmth of her centrally-heated dorm room, to the lovers idling together in the quad.

Gratitude

She’d been roomed with an equally timid girl from Somalia named Alma, who had won a similar scholarship. Neither left their room the first week, other than for class or food.

But an invite to an alumni reception, welcoming them to Harvard, appeared to demand their attendance at Loeb House on Quincy. They decided to go together, but when it came time to go, Alma wouldn’t get out of bed, and Ayesha had to go alone.

She figured she would show her face and her gratitude, then bolt back to her room.

Deep Breath

Ayesha was already regretting her decision when she walked in and received a sticky nameplate on her sweater and a plate of canapés shoved in her face. She recognized the shrimp but not the pastry case it sat in.

Ayesha hoped her niqab made her invisible, she slowly weaved through the noisy crowd, and headed to the open window at the back of the room. Dappled twilight played through an oak tree outside, it helped calm her and she opened the window wider to get some more air.

Noticed

Noticed

That’s when she noticed him. He was tall with a kind face, and looked vaguely familiar as he listened patiently to a small group of students. She thought he was one of the younger lecturers. He scribbled something on a book and handed it back to one of the young men. She saw his eyes drawn to the same window.

He wants to escape too, she thought.

Battle Lost

Looking away, she went back to battling with the canapé. When she tried to break off a piece of the dry pastry it exploded all over her clothes and onto the floor.

“Oh, no!” Ayesha glanced across to see the man grinning at her.

“Having trouble?”

“We don’t have food like this back home.” She blushed.

“Probably because your country is much smarter than ours.” Zia wasn’t sure which country the girl was from. All he could see were her eyes. She spoke perfect English.

“Here, let me help.” He gently took the soggy remains from her hand. He picked up a napkin and took her wrist, discreetly wiping a blob of prawn sauce from her finger.

Help

“Thank you, for helping,” His brown eyes were close to hers, much closer than she was comfortable with. She could smell a hint of lemon. It reminded her of home.

“You have the most beautiful eyes.” He was still holding her hand.

Someone coughed politely beside them. “How are you doing, Ayesha Khan?” An older man with thick swept-back black hair was holding out his hand. She wondered how he knew her name.

The busy room came rushing back, an assault of loud voices and laughter surrounded her once more. She realized he was reading her name tag.

“Err, I’m fine, thank you,” she managed.

Not Necessary

Not Necessary

“You must be one of our wonderful scholarship students.” Tariq was looking at her expectantly. He’d backed her into a lamp in the corner of the room. “It’s an interesting choice…” Ayesha was even more confused. “To wear the face cover. It’s not necessary here, you know.” He moved even closer.

A Promise Made

“I promised my parents I would wear it.” Panicking, she looked in vain for his name badge. “I’m sorry I don’t know your name.”

“Is he bothering you?” Zia cut in. He was wearing a suit; his short, dark hair was ruffled and unkempt. He had olive skin and western features. “I can call security.”

Ayesha wasn’t sure if he was joking. He didn’t have a badge either.

Tariq just smiled. “Where are you from, Ayesha?”

“From Karachi.”

“In Pakistan.”

Stares

“Yes,” she was surprised he knew.

“It’s an interesting city.”

Americans didn’t usually know what to say when she said she came from Pakistan. Every introduction felt like a TSA inspection.

Ayesha noticed that other guests were trying to catch the attention of the younger man.

“Why are they all staring at you?” Ayesha asked.

“You’re wrong,” he whispered in her ear. “They’re looking at you.”

Giving Back

“Most of the alumni at this reception help fund the international scholarships to bring disadvantaged students to Harvard,” Tariq, the older man, said. “We both went to college here, he was an undergrad, I did my Masters.”

“That is truly wonderful. I am so grateful for this opportunity.”

“It’s the one event we try and turn up to. It’s our way of giving back. My foundation helped bring two boys over from Pakistan. They’re from Peshawar in the northwest. Their names are Salman and Bilal. Good boys. I’m sure you must have seen them around the college.”

Long Way From Home

City of Karachi, Pakistan, Shutterstock

Long Way From Home

Ayesha had seen them. They were on the same flights over from Pakistan, and then from Dubai, but she hadn’t talked to them.

“Welcome to Harvard, Ayesha.” Tariq excused himself and was now talking to the two Pakistani boys from her flight. They looked pretty awkward and out of place, too.

Call Me

Ayesha stood by the window and felt more at ease than she had since arriving at Boston’s Logan International airport, just a week earlier.

Zia left her to give a speech. She sensed the two men were Harvard celebrities, but nobody ever mentioned why. He came back afterwards and wished her well. “If there is anything I can do for you while you’re here, please call me any time.” They had to go, he told her.

Zia wrote his name and number on a restaurant check he fished from the pocket of his jacket and handed Ayesha the paper. “If you need anything - even if you just want to be rescued from the madness here - give me a call.”

Rescue

Ayesha took the paper and thanked him. Having finally found her voice she asked Zia, “And who’s going to rescue you?”

“Whatever makes you think I need rescuing?” He couldn’t tell what she was thinking behind the silken layers of emerald green and vanilla. He longed to pull back the fabric and see her face.

“Just a feeling. I saw you looking out of the window…”

Someone touched Zia’s shoulder. They had to go, they were late, said an assistant.

“Call me please.” He said as he was pulled away. Then he looked back over his shoulder smiling: “I need you to rescue me.”