The iCandidate: 23rd Installment
To begin with Installment 1, please click here.
The iCandidate is a guilty pleasure - 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 - and it keeps the authors on their toes!
In the novel, serialized weekly only 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, and really, would it be any crazier than what we've got now?
Change America one iVote at a time - and cheer on your iCandidate! Be sure to cast your in-app iVotes to save your favorite iCandidates!
CHAPTER 68 – TROUBLE
Bilal wasn’t comfortable leaving campus without Salman. He’d never admit it to anybody, but he felt homesick for Peshawar. He had felt much surer of his role when he was studying at the madrasa, a peaceful place without all this western noise. But he had a job to do; they both did.
Bilal despised the male students with their headphones and their partying, and the whores in their shorts and vests, and was grateful they were under strict orders not to associate with anybody. They were to go to class, stick together, and wait for instructions; nothing more.
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Salman was waiting for Bilal in the library. “Did you get them,” Salman asked in Urdu.
“Of course.” Bilal wasn’t sure about his childhood friend’s suitability for this mission. “It was no problem.”
“But what if someone sees you?” Salman always feared the worst. He was short and his hair was fastidiously combed. Bilal was taller and scruffier, and always wore a “B” baseball cap.
“Who’s going to see me, Sal? Who’s going to care about a couple of exchange students? You worry too much.”
They were sitting in their usual place behind a bookshelf in the corner of the student library. “I just like to be careful.”
“Look, we’ve got simple instructions. We take it in turns, pick up everything we need on the list from different places.
If we do get stopped – and we won’t – but if we do, there is nothing suspicious about any of the individual components. The only danger is when we put it all together, and I’ll be taking care of that. And by then, you’ll probably be on the flight back to Islamabad.”
“But what about our studies?” Salman was the brightest student at the seminary, but was only there to nurse Bilal through his Harvard classes.
“What about our classes? That’s not what we’re here for, Sal.”
“But it is Harvard. It would be good to get the diploma. You know, for the future.”
“There won’t be a future for Harvard if all goes well.”
Change Of Heart
Ayesha was getting back the textbooks she’d handed in, her thoughts full of Zia. They had walked along the river and he had held her hand. She remembered the warmth of his touch and way he had looked at her, the fresh hint of lemon when he leaned in close.
They talked forever during dinner, and when he left later that evening, Zia told her he already missed her. Now in the library, the phone he gave her buzzed quietly.
She opened the text message from him. He was counting the hours before seeing her. A red heart closed the message and she smiled. Her heart felt full, she was so happy to be staying in America and studying at Harvard. She felt as if she were in a dream.
She was surprised to hear the familiar Urdu from the other side of the bookshelf, and Ayesha felt a quick stab of homesickness. She would have been home by now.
Listening closer, she realized it was the boys sponsored by Zia’s father’s foundation. They had never been the least bit friendly to her.
It didn’t make a lot of sense what they were saying, but she didn’t like the sound of it.
She decided to tell Zia. He would know what to do.
CHAPTER 69 – THEN THERE WERE THREE…
The results show wasn’t the kind of cliffhanger Kristoff wanted. Everybody knew Cameron was going home.
The results of the poll flashed up on the screen behind him.
Studio Audience/Audience At Home
30% - ECONOMY/JOBS
20% - DEFICIT/INTEREST ON DEBT
15% - HEALTH
15% - EDUCATION
13% - HOME SEC/DEFENSE
5% - FOREIGN AID
2% - OTHER PROGRAMS
“America has spoken and the economy and interest debt are the two areas where you spent the most money. Notice that although Todd allocated a whopping 30% to defense, he also matched both of the top areas, with 30% on the economy and 20% on the deficit. Grace was right up there, too, with 25% and 20% respectively.
Grace and Todd, you are both safe.
“Now Tom, you were more conservative on America’s top two, spending 12% on interest debt and 15% on the economy, but that’s okay. You budgeted high for health at 30% and education at 20%, which were America’s next two priorities.
“So you, too, are safe.”
Cameron’s head dropped.
“That leaves Cameron. Unfortunately, Cameron didn’t show the same kind of financial acumen as the other three surviving finalists. He spent a huge chunk of change, 30% in fact, on foreign aid, 25% on health, and 15% on the economy.
“His failure to invest any of his $1 million to pay off the national debt, for whatever reason, shows a definite lack of financial responsibility.”
Cameron was out. The viral video had sealed his fate.
CHAPTER 70 – MISS YOU
Leaving the stage, Cameron looked for Grace. There was something he wanted to get off his chest.
“By the way, I wanted to tell them to vote for you in the finale.”
“Why would you say that?” Her heart skipped a beat, but her defenses snapped shut around her. What was his ulterior motive, she wondered.
“Because I think you should win. Take the compliment Grace. Why is it so hard for you do that it?”
“Well, I’m surprised. You might just be the most arrogant man I’ve ever met and you certainly lived up to everybody’s expectations, didn’t you?”
“You have such a way of making a man feel good about himself, Grace.”
“Well, I’m sorry, you just bring it out of me.”
Cameron was about to say something but Grace continued. “Something doesn’t add up though. You may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. What really got you involved in that fight?
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Cameron tried to sound casual, but Grace wasn’t buying it.
“Try me?” Grace answered. She thought she saw something raw cross his face, vulnerability maybe. It lasted just a second.
He was convinced he’d been framed and told her so.
Grace looked doubtful. “So, they just happened to be sitting in the very bar you walk into, plotting your downfall. That seems pretty far-fetched.”
“You can believe what you like, but she was filming me while he stamped footprints on my face.” Grace narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
He knew she would never believe him, so what was the point in trying…
“What can I say? Some things just don’t add up…Now you, on the other hand, your figure is just perfect.”
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “You know, I think this whole arrogant-flirty-swagger thing you have going on might be a cover up. It’s just too over-the-top to be real.”
Cameron ignored the comment. “Grace, here’s your chance to tell me how much you’ll miss me.”
“Get over yourself, Cameron.”
“Not quite what I was looking for. Some you win, some you lose, I guess.” They reached the Green Room and Kristoff beckoned Cameron to join him in his office.
“Good luck, Grace. I’ll be thinking of you.”
“Thank you. Good luck yourself.”
Grace watched Cameron walk away and, as unlikely as it seemed, she realized she didn’t want him to go.
Tom found her standing in the same spot a few moments later. “Penny for your thoughts, my dear? Oh, and congratulations on a superb challenge!”
“Congratulations to you too Tom! We did it! How completely insane is all this?”
The Crazy Part
“I think the crazy part is that this aging transgender is still in the race… I think they just like my fashion sense actually,” he added, with a cheeky grin. He twirled around in a light blue dress, decorated with little american flags and matching shoes.
“That must be it!” Grace laughed. She adored this man. He didn’t care in the least what people thought of him, always positive and probably the most genuine person she had ever met. “Listen, I’m going to meet Gillian for a drink.Want to join us, Tom?”
“Thank you, Grace, that’s very kind of you, but I’m taking my wife out for a real feast: steak, mashed potatoes, hot fudge sundae, the works. I thought it was going to be our exit dinner. Who knew?”
Over Grace’s shoulder he saw his wife appear. She was beaming, and gave him a small wave.
Not The Time
"There’s my angel now. She likes to stay out of the limelight--says I fill up the spotlight plenty for the both of us…I have no idea what she means!”
A kiss on the cheek and he was gone.
Grace watched down the corridor as Tom and his wife shared a gentle embrace, then she threw back her head and laughed at something Tom said. Tom’s wife was much more conservatively dressed in a beige sundress. Arm in arm, they left out of the back door.
Grace couldn’t help but smile at how happy they looked. A pang of loneliness hit her, but she quickly buried it. Now was not the time. She had come too far to blow it now.
CHAPTER 71 – UNVEILED
It was several more days before Zia could get away, and when he spoke to Ayesha on the phone he was careful not to alert her that something was wrong.
She was so different. Something had unlocked inside her and she was bubbling with excitement as she described walking the streets of Boston, feeling more and more at home in Cambridge. She couldn’t wait to see him again.
He kept up a forced jollity. The thought of letting her down again was so devastating he could barely concentrate at work. His father had been emphatic but unyielding – Zia must give up Ayesha or risk losing everything.
Zia walked the stairs to Ayesha’s dorm room with a heavy heart. He hoped she’d understand, but he knew she wouldn’t. He’d stopped her from going home only to break her heart again.
He knocked on the door and heard her apologize as she took her time to open it.
Then she was there. The eyes looking up at him were the same, but the niqab was gone. Her jet-black, silky hair flowed over her bare shoulders. She smiled shyly and his gaze was drawn to her lips. He longed to kiss her, and to touch her face.
She was as beautiful as he had always known she would be; they recognized something deep within each other.
“Come,” she said, pulling him into a haze of saffron, cumin and coriander. “Alma is out for the evening and I’ve cooked you something from home.”
And just like that, Zia knew that for the first time in his life, he would disobey his father.