May 29 2013 1:30pm
Get a glimpse of Dan Krokos The Planet Thieves, out now:
Two weeks ago, thirteen-year-old Mason Stark and seventeen of his fellow cadets from the Academy for Earth Space Command boarded the SS Egypt. The trip was supposed to be a short routine voyage to log their required spacetime for summer quarter.
But routine goes out the airlock when they’re attacked by the Tremist, an alien race who have been at war with humanity for the last sixty years.
With the captain and crew dead, injured, or taken prisoner, Mason and the cadets are all that’s left to warn the ESC. And soon they find out exactly why the Tremist chose this ship to attack: the Egypt is carrying a weapon that could change the war forever.
Now Mason will have to lead the cadets in a daring assault to take back the ship, rescue the survivors, and recover the weapon. Before there isn’t a war left to fight.
Mason froze, waiting for his sister’s voice to come back. Death was something they talked about at the Academy, but talk was talk, and this felt like a bucket of cold water to the face. A second passed, and then another, and she did not speak again, and Mason was paralyzed, remembering what it was like to see Captain Renner fall. This is how Tom felt, he thought.
Susan wouldn’t leave him; she knew she was all Mason had left. Without her he was just a person, not a brother. Without her, he didn’t mean anything to anybody, except Merrin, of course, but that was different. Susan was the only family he had left, and he would do whatever he could to help her.
Merrin grabbed his hand and gently pulled, then tugged when it was clear Mason wasn’t moving.
“C’mon,” she whispered. “She’s okay. I’m sure they just knocked out the com.”
Mason wanted to move, but it felt like he was going to throw up. He could taste it in the back of his mouth, the burn of acid and fear, and he didn’t know how to make it go away. Susan had told him about a trick once, but something she only used rarely. Sometimes, if she was afraid, she’d take all her fear and gather it up and turn it into anger. Anger didn’t paralyze the way fear did. It was the opposite of being helpless. But it was dangerous too, because you could end up being angry all the time.
Mason got angry.
He let it flow through him, didn’t bother trying to temper it with logic or reason. He could feel it scouring the weakness from him, giving him the strength he would need to keep going.
Tom waited for them in the elevator, holding it open with his arm. “Get in!” he hissed.
Just as the talon stopped cutting into the wall.
“Shh, quiet,” a man’s voice said from down the corridor. “Listen.” But Mason knew there could be no men left; the chuffing sounds the P-cannons made had faded to silence. So who had spoke? It didn’t matter: facing the Tremist unarmed would help no one. Mason and Merrin padded toward the elevator as quietly as they could. Now he wanted to run, but their footsteps would give away their presence.
Then the ship’s computer, Elizabeth, said, “Cadet Renner, please stop blocking the elevator door.”
Mason and Merrin jumped into the elevator and spun in time to see three Tremist charge around the corner. They were at full sprint, faster than he thought men could move. Their plate armor shimmered wetly, shifting between purple and black, catching the sterile light of the spaceship and making it alien. Mason saw his own face in the flat mirrored surface that was the leading Tremist’s faceplate.
Tom had moved his arm, but the door was still open. They were only thirty feet away now.
“Shut the door!” Mason yelled, pressing himself against the wall.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied airily, and the door began to shut.
The three Tremist paused when they realized they wouldn’t make it in time, and then lifted the talons to their shoulders. The soldier part of Mason’s brain, the part that didn’t get afraid, noted the angle at which the Tremist held their weapons, how, in the next second, each beam would slice through them at the breastbone.
The door sealed; Mason dragged Merrin and Tom to the floor as the talons’ green beams crisscrossed through the door and heated the air above them until it was crackling. Then the car descended, giving the illusion of the beams rising up through the door until they disappeared through the ceiling.
The air was hot and baked and smelled like electricity.
The door opened on the next level down, into a corridor identical to the one they just left. Tom had his dataslate plugged into a port on the elevator. “Erasing our destination level . . . now! Bought us a few minutes.”
Merrin took the pad out of his hand. Her fingers danced over the screen until it flashed red. “There—the elevator is frozen.”
Tom scrunched his nose. “How did you . . . ?”
Mason was already out of the elevator, straining to hear anything over the background noise. It was quiet, and the ship didn’t feel like it was moving anymore. They walked down the hall and passed through a doorway on the right, to a parallel corridor that would take them to one of the armories. Mason hoped his weapons training would serve him: Weapons and Tactics was one of his best classes. It was time to see how all that practice translated in a real live combat situation. A simple instruction came to his mind: Relax, breathe, aim.
The whole left side of the ship was made up of these corridors stacked atop each other, with rooms crammed in between them. A number on the wall showed this was level six. Level two held the theater. Levels four and five held the gym. Most of it was crew quarters, though: the Egypt was equipped for battle, but it was also the ship you took when you wanted to move a lot of ESC troops from one place to another. Though she was only packed with a couple hundred crew at the moment, the Egypt had room for two thousand.
They passed an adjacent, empty corridor, and Mason heard the faraway buzz of talons. Orders were being shouted. The battle was on. Once he had a gun, he could fight his way to the bridge and . . . Susan was still alive. She had to be, and he’d save her.
The Planet Thieves © Dan Krokos 2013