Starbreak (Excerpt)

Alien foes, forbidden romance, and uneasy alliances await in Phoebe North’s Starbreak, the sequel to Starglass. Read an excerpt from Starbreak below, and look for it July 8th from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers!

The Asherah has finally reached Zehava, the long-promised planet. There, Terra finds harsh conditions and a familiar foe—Aleksandra Wolff, leader of her ship’s rebel forces. As Terra and Aleksandra lock horns about how best to reach the alien city, they encounter violent beasts—and dangerous hunters.

It’s only when they’re taken to the city as prisoners that Terra finally discovers Vadix, the boy who has haunted her dreams. But Vadix has a dark past of his own, and Aleksandra is intent on using violence to lead their tiny band to freedom. When the rebel leader gets humanity expelled from the planet, it’s up to Terra, with Vadix by her side, to unite her people—and to forge an alliance with the alien hosts, who want nothing more than to see humanity gone forever.

 

 

PART ONE: THE WILDS

1

On the night of the riots, I wasn’t the only one who ran for the shuttle bay.

As I pressed across the frozen pastures, my hands balled into fists, my feet bare against the cold ground, I was joined by throngs of people. Citizens, their gazes drunk-dizzy and crazed,

spilled out from the districts and the fields, clamoring for the aft lift. That day—my wedding day, the day we arrived on Zehava—was supposed to be a festive one.The citizens had been saving up their rations for weeks, stockpiling bottles of wine so they could drink from the first moment dawn cracked until the planet was stained black by the darkening night.

But the planet never went dark. Instead Zehava twinkled and glinted in the dome glass like a second sky. Lights. The northern continent was scattered with lights, clustered around the black oceans like gilt edging a page.Those lights could only mean one thing: people. There were people on our planet, the planet we’d journeyed five hundred years to find, the planet we’d been told would someday be our home.

Maybe they didn’t believe it, those citizens who ran by me, jostling and shoving one another. Maybe they were so drunk, they’d convinced themselves it wasn’t true. Zehava was theirs— their abbas had sung them songs about it; their mommas had told them about the good lives they’d live underneath the wide open sky. Maybe they thought the lights were something else, a trick of Mother Nature—phosphorescent algae or glowing rocks. Whatever the case, in their drunken fervor they’d convinced themselves that the path ahead would be easy.They’d take a shuttle down to the surface and find Zehava perfect and empty. It had been promised to them, after all.

I ran for a different reason, the pleats of my long golden gown clutched in my fists. Sure, I was just as starved as the rest of them. I wanted Zehava too; the Goldilocks planet would be our better, more perfect home. But that night? I mostly just ran for my life. When I squeezed myself into the crowded lift, the smell of sweat and wine and bloodstained wool all around me, I gave one last look back. I couldn’t be certain, but I thought I saw her there. Aleksandra Wolff, leader of the Children of Abel.The captain’s daughter—a woman so powerful that she’d kept her family’s name for her own, defying all of the traditions of the ship. Her black braid swung behind her as she ran.

When the door shut behind me, I put my hands on my knees, panting. The air felt cold and sharp inside my lungs. I remembered the expression on Aleksandra’s face—wild, hungry. I’d seen the whole thing, standing frozen in that cornfield as Aleksandra held that silver rope of hair in her hand and drew the knife across her mother’s throat.

An old woman stood beside me in the lift. She touched her hand gently to my bare shoulder.

“Aren’t you happy?” she cried. She was hazy with drink. “The Council, fallen! Fallen at last!”

I winced. The lift was filled with people, too many people, as it plunged into the depths of the ship.They sang and chanted, pumping their fists, but I couldn’t hear their words. Instead I heard an echo— Captain Wolff ’s voice coming back to me, just before she made that last, strangled sound.

They won’t follow you. Not after they’ve discovered that you killed your own mother.

Aleksandra had answered easily: Good thing they won’t find out. But I knew, I knew—and worst of all? Aleksandra had caught me listening. On her belt she carried a knife, still hot with her mother’s blood, sharp as a straight razor and twice as quick.

But I had somewhere to go. Zehava. The purple forests writhed and shifted in the corners of my memory. And I had someone waiting for me too. The boy—my boy—the one who’d haunted my dreams for months. He’d keep me safe from Aleksandra, and from the bodies that jostled me in their drunken fervor as they spilled from the lift. He’d be my home. My haven. My sanctuary.

He just didn’t know it yet.

I stumbled from the lift into the crowded shuttle bay.

 

Once, the bay had been closed to all but necessary personnel—shuttle pilots and their crews, the captain, the Council. But someone had cracked the lift’s control panel open. It trailed wires like a jumble of guts.When we arrived, the doors opened easily. Already the room was packed with people who elbowed one another, shouting. Most carried handcrafted weapons, table legs broken off or knives filched from their galley drawers. Someone had a shepherd’s crook they’d broken down into a splintered spear. I had to duck under it as I scrambled toward the air lock entrance.

At first I just stood there staring, my bare feet flat against the rusted floor. The air lock was open. Inside waited row upon row of shuttles, gleaming beneath the dim track lighting. We’d prepared for years for disembarking. In school Rebbe Davison had taken us through the necessary drills: meeting with our muster groups, filing in one group at a time. Of course, it had only ever been for practice. I’d only ever seen snatches of the air lock before—with its precarious walkway and its long tunnels that reached out into the universe beyond—just before the air lock shut.

I heard a familiar ding. When I glanced back, I saw the lift doors open again. Still more people spilled out. I was frozen, my dress in my hands. But then I saw a face in the crowd in the lift. Aleksandra, her pale features drawn, stood among the new group. I wondered if they knew that she was their leader. I hadn’t—it had been a secret, well kept. But now it seemed the news was spreading as quickly as a winter cold. Field-workers bowed their heads to whisper to specialists. Merchants lifted their eyes, squared their shoulders, and pressed two fingers to their hearts.They rushed toward her, flanking her on all sides. It give me time, but not much. I had to hurry as the people raised their weapons in salute. I pressed forward through the crowd, nearing the air lock door.

I’d almost reached it when I heard a familiar voice, touched with awe.

“Is that her, Deck? Is it true?”

I whipped my head up. There stood Laurel Selberlicht, her honey-brown eyes as bright as beacons. Deklan Levitt was beside her, one burly arm thrown over her shoulders. I’d known the pair my whole life; they’d been my classmates first, flirting during recess, passing notes to each other when Rebbe Davison’s back was turned. Later I’d grown used to seeing them in the shadowed library, to pressing my fingers to my heart in salute when we passed each other in the dome. He was a plowman; in one season his work had transformed him from a narrow reed of a boy into a well-muscled man. But Laurel was slight, willowy. Her shoulder still bore the rank cords she’d been given by the High Council.A silver twist of thread—a special color, reserved for shuttle pilots like her.

I didn’t even stop to think about it. I reached out and took her slender, cool hand in mine.

“Laurel,” I said. When she lifted her eyes, they went hazy. I could smell the wine on her breath.“Laurel, come with me. I need your help.”

“Sure,Terra,” she said, and though there was a note of confusion in her voice, she let me pull her through the crowd. But a gruff tenor called out to us. Deklan, his unruly eyebrows low.

“Hey, where are you taking her?”

We were almost at the air lock door when I looked back. He was following us, but he wasn’t alone.Two other rebels flanked him, one on either side, their expressions mirroring his concern. One, familiar—Rebbe Davison, Mordecai, our teacher, his lush black curls threaded gray.The other, a stranger, small in stature, whose shoulder bore the blue knot of a specialist.

“It’s okay!” I called through the clamor, but I don’t think they heard me.The trio followed us, as close as magnets, as I pulled Laurel down past the air lock entrance and into the long, dim hallway.

“What’s going on,Terra?” she asked as we stopped on the narrow walkway. The air was cooler here, quieter. Few citizens had made it into the air lock. Only a pair of dark silhouettes could be seen in the distance, standing beside one of the waiting shuttles.

“You’ve trained as a pilot,” I said, narrowing my gaze on her.“You can get us to Zehava.”

“But we’re not supposed to leave until we receive word back from the shuttle crew.”

By now Deklan and his companions had reached us. He grabbed her to him, holding on tight—as if I were going to snatch her away. To be fair, I had already snatched her away once. If I wanted Laurel’s help, it seemed I’d need to convince Deklan, too.

“She’s trained all year for this, Deklan. She’s a strong, capable pilot. Don’t you want to see her fulfill her dreams?”

His expression shadowed with guilt. He looked down at Laurel, and I saw then the love that tethered them together. He was proud of her vocation, of all she’d done with her life, no matter how much he hid that behind gruffness and bluster.

“Of course I do,” he said softly. Tucked beneath his arm, Laurel glowed. But she didn’t answer me, not yet. I glanced toward the figures behind them.

Rebbe Davison lurked there, his face clouded with concern. On a night when most of the ship’s population was alive with exuberant energy, he suddenly looked much older. I saw the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, the deep frown circling his mouth.

“Rebbe Davison,” I said. “You taught us our muster drills, all the procedures for disembarking when we were young.Who gave you those orders?”

He paused—behind him the sound of the crowd swelled.

“The Council,” he said. “The curriculum always came from the Council.”

“And what was all this for,” I demanded, gesturing back toward the shuttle bay, packed with bodies, “if we’re going to stay under their thumbs? They’d want us to wait, I’m sure. But that planet is our inheritance. Not this ship!”

“She’s right,” Laurel said. I blinked back my surprise; I hadn’t expected agreement to come so quickly. Deklan held her tightly, but she squirmed away. “No, Deck. This is what I’ve been training for. I can do this.The planet is ours. Isn’t it?”

Without waiting for an answer, she turned and walked away from him.There was a panel built into the wall. Her hands moved breezily over it. As she worked, I glanced back over my shoulder. The crowd was pressing closer now, threatening to spill over the precipice of the air lock. I saw a cutting figure among them, her wool-wrapped shoulders square.Aleksandra, knife in her hand, parting the crowd like they were sheep to be herded. Coming close.

But then the air lock door began to slide back into place. Her eyes widened. She shouted something, but the words were lost beneath the shouts and songs of the rebels who surrounded her.They didn’t matter. She didn’t. The door sealed shut, and we were left alone in the darkness.

 

Laurel turned on the heel of her leather-soled shoe to make her way briskly through the air lock.At first I hesitated beside Rebbe Davison and his friend, watching as Deklan scrambled after her.

“You’re not going alone!” he cried, fixing a hand on her shoulder. She spun around, tossing her curls as she faced him.

“Then come with us.”

His eyes met mine, murky with confusion, as if he couldn’t believe what the rebellion had wrought: his love was ready to leap off the ship and into the void of space without him.Then he looked to the specialist and to Rebbe Davison.

“Are you going?”

At first our teacher looked wary, uncertain. But then he let his eyes slide shut. Behind us the sound of the rioting crowd could still be heard, a dozen muffled hands pounding on the air lock door again and again. When Rebbe Davison opened his eyes, they were filled with a new, razor-sharp certainty.

“Liberty on Zehava,” he said, softly at first, but then again, louder. “Liberty on Zehava! Terra’s right. The planet. The planet is ours.”

There was something strange, garbled about his words. In class this kindhearted man had always spoken with confidence. Even when someone misbehaved, he’d laughed it off easily, taking every disaster in stride. Now he seemed hazy.

Drunk.They were all drunk, I realized. I’d swallowed down a full skein of wine that evening myself, but now that I was driven by a single goal, the night had taken on an uncanny clarity. I could see the rust on the grating beneath us, every rivet on every shuttle, and the cobwebs that would soon be blasted away when the ship’s outer port opened.Anyone left behind in the air lock would be lost to the vacuum of space—and I wasn’t about to open up the door to the shuttle bay again. So even though I heard the slur in my teacher’s words, I nodded. I needed them to come with me, and fast.

“Good. Let’s board, then,” I said.

Rebbe Davison looked at the specialist, who considered for a moment, mouth open. But soon he nodded too.We all turned toward the shuttles and made our way toward one at the back.

“I only have access to this one,” Laurel said as we neared shuttle number twenty-eight. But the door was blocked by a pair of figures. An old man with a fringe of white hair and a bulbous nose—and a dark-haired girl, no older than ten.The man was my neighbor, Mar Schneider. He’d been a part of our clandestine library meetings too, and when he saw us, he lifted two fingers to his heart.

“She wanted to see the shuttles,” he said, almost apologetically, holding the girl’s hand tight. I recognized her as his granddaughter, who sat on his stoop with him sometimes to watch the traffic of the afternoon, but in that moment I couldn’t remember her name. As Laurel shouldered them aside to punch in her access code, Rebbe Davison set a hand on the old man’s shoulder. He spoke just a few decibels louder than necessary.

“Abraham, we’re going to the planet! Would you like to join us?”

Mar Schneider lifted a hand to touch his scratchy white beard. He smacked his lips, considering. But his granddaughter didn’t need time to consider. She jumped up and down on the balls of her feet.

“Yes! Yes! Zayde, please?”

As if it were nothing more than a request for a box of candy, he sighed. My heart was pounding. Behind me the door to the shuttle bay was pounding too—a low, steady thunder.

“Oh, I suppose.”

One by one we climbed inside. The shuttle was small, meant to carry only a dozen people. That night we were half that. But our meager crew would have to do.As we boarded, Laurel turned toward a storage space in back.

“The flight suits are in there. Everybody suit up. And be sure to buckle up.” She pulled the heavy door closed behind us. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw a shadow of doubt in her pale eyes. I ignored it. I needed her if I was going to reach Zehava—if I was going to find my boy, waiting for me. She added,“It might be a bumpy ride.”

 

2

The suits were kept in hermetically sealed containers. They’d been removed only once a generation, to have their moth holes repaired by the best seamstresses on the Asherah.When we unfolded the garments, they resembled the threadbare quilts we

all used to keep ourselves warm on cold winter nights—covered in stitches and patches, not at all like something that would keep us safe from the ravages of space.

Laurel and Deklan doled one out to each of us. I held the crinkly suit for a moment, almost not believing that this day had finally come. After seventeen years trapped on this ship, I would finally set foot on Zehava, the place we’d sung songs about in school—the place I daydreamed about as I doodled in my notebook margins. Stepping into the suit’s long legs, I hiked up the pleats of my long dress. But I fumbled as I tried to pull the suit up over my waist.The dress was tightly laced from behind; I couldn’t reach the stays.

“Can you help me?” I asked Laurel, feeling my cheeks heat as the men glanced over at me. She was already zipped into her suit, her springy curls still tucked under the suit’s collar.

“Sure,” she said. She hurried over.Together we stepped into the dark shadows near the back of the shuttle. I felt her hands make quick work of the laces.Then my breath fully filled my lungs for the first time that night.

“It’s a beautiful dress,” she said, leaning close. “Did you and Silvan have a chance to say your vows?”

I lifted my arms, letting Laurel raise the reams of silk over my head. It came off in a stream of gold. I didn’t want to think of Silvan, not now—didn’t want to consider the wounded look he’d given me when I said I wouldn’t be his bride.This day was about me and the alien boy. Not about Silvan Rafferty.

“No,” I whispered. My voice came out hoarse, strange. “No, we didn’t.”

I hefted the suit’s sleeves up over my naked shoulders, then groped for the zipper.The synthetic material felt warm and clammy over my skin. When I turned, it was to see Laurel smiling sympathetically as she handed me back the bolts of golden silk.

“Good,” she said. “Who’d wanna be married to a Council member, anyway?”

She left me standing there in the shadows as she took the pilot’s seat. I clutched that fine, stupid dress against my belly, watching as the men sat down and strapped themselves in. Mar Schneider tightened his granddaughter’s straps. His old eyes twinkled.

“I never thought I’d see it,” he said. “A planet. Zehava. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a child.”

“Me too,” the girl agreed cheerfully, kicking out her legs in excitement.Then she turned to look at me. I still stood in the back of the shuttle, hidden in the dark shadows. “Are you excited?”

I walked to the other side of the aisle, where an empty seat waited. I knew that it was crazy, this journey—and my choice of companions did little to calm my fears. A field-worker and a school teacher. An old man and a child. A specialist—who knew in what—and a pilot, too, but one who had never flown a shuttle before. Still, I had to hope that they’d get me to him, the boy whose skin smelled like flowers and tasted like ripe summer fruit.

“Of course I am,” I said as I pulled the straps down over my shoulders. In the pilot’s seat Laurel reached up, flipping a switch. There was a roar, dull at first but growing. I gazed down at the silk that I still clutched. The dress was crumpled, stained from my race through the pastures. Ruined; it was ruined.

My brother had bought me that dress, scrimping and saving every piece of gelt he could. He said it was what our father would have wanted. But our father wasn’t here now. What did it matter what Abba wanted? I stuffed the dress beneath my seat, kicking at the wide skirt and petticoat until it was all out of sight.

The engine flared and our bodies were pressed back against the seats. I thought of Aleksandra, fumbling with the controls to the air lock doors. But I willed her memory away. Soon I would be free of her, of this ship, this life. The little girl looked over. Her smile was toothy, wide.

“Don’t be scared,” she said. But I didn’t feel scared, not one bit.

I felt exhilarated.

 

At first the trip was rocky. I shut my eyes, imagining our little shuttle bumping and bumbling down the intake port and leaving a whitehot trail behind it.Then the noise died down; the shuttle straightened. When I opened my eyes, I saw a black sky scattered with stars in the window past Laurel’s head. She moved her hands over the controls, lighting dials beneath her fingertips. I could see her face, gold and flickering in the light. Her smile was tentative, uncertain. I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“You know what you’re doing, right?” Deklan asked, setting his muddy boots up on the dash. He’d taken the copilot’s seat, but he didn’t seem to be helping her at all. He only frowned as she hesitated over the controls.

“Of course I do,” she said. “Get your feet down. This isn’t your bedroom.”

After a beat he did, letting them thump against the metal ground. Then he looked back over his shoulder, letting his eyebrow lift up as he turned to the men. I’d seen that look before, from Abba, from Ronen, from Silvan, too. Crazy woman, it meant, and it filled my belly with rage to see it.We were depending on Laurel—not just Deklan, but all of us.Who was he to fill her head with doubts?

But Laurel was unperturbed. She pressed a button, then sat back. She finally nodded her curly head in satisfaction.

“There.The course is set.We’ll arrive in eight point six hours.”

“That long?” Deklan asked.

Laurel glanced skyward.“How long did you think it would take?”

“Your intended never was one for listening in school,” Rebbe Davison said. Laurel jumped a little. I think she’d forgotten that there was anyone but the two of them in the shuttle. But she smiled gratefully.

“He’s not one for listening generally,” she agreed. Deklan glowered at her, but after a moment his hard mouth dissolved into a smile.

“You got me, bashert.” Bashert.The word made my heart lurch in my chest. Deklan had already met his heart’s match. Maybe soon I would too. “I’ll be good and let you drive. Just wake me when it’s over.”

He sat back in the seat, propping his arms up like he was getting ready for a nap. Laurel let out a bell of soft laughter.

“Sleep tight,” she said.

As Deklan closed his eyes, I looked at the black sky filling the window. There was a streak of white light in the distance, arcing toward the planet. But I thought perhaps I dreamed it—no one else seemed to notice.The others talked, making introductions, prattling on about the lives they’d just abandoned.The small-eyed specialist was called Jachin. A biologist, he’d left behind a wife who swore her allegiance to the Council even as chaos descended on the ship. But he wasn’t looking back. Instead he turned the discussion to the planet ahead.Who were the people who lived on it below? Would they welcome us?

I thought of the video I’d seen in the ship’s command center just before the revolt. Only hours had passed, but it felt like a lifetime already.The men who’d held the shuttle crew hadn’t been like any men I’d known in my waking life.They were too tall, too thin.Their bodies bent in ways that should have seemed unnatural to me.

But they didn’t. Every night for nearly six months now, I’d dreamed of a body like that—long and cool beside me, filling my nose and mouth and mind with the scent of a thousand different flowers. In my dreams I was naked, and when I wasn’t, he soon undressed me with his nimble, three-fingered hands.…

His eyes were black, a pair of obsidian lozenges without a shred of light inside them.The men in the transmission had black eyes, too. But their gazes didn’t welcome me. In fact, the men in the transmission snarled as they forced the lost shuttle crew to parrot officious words.

Mayday, Mayday. Zehava is inhabited. I repeat, Zehava is inhabited.…

And yet I knew in the pit of my belly that my boy was real. He waited on that planet somewhere—the one that, just now, had only barely begun to come into view. I saw the delicate, curving lip of her oceans against the horizon, swirled with white from above. I saw the lights, winking, glinting. It was too dark to see the purple vegetation, but I knew that if I wanted to see Zehava’s forests and her vines, all I had to do was shut my eyes. It had always worked before.

“Hey, lady,” the little girl said. I turned to look at her.

“Mmm?”

“What do you think the aliens are like?” she asked.

Alien,” I thought. What a funny word.We’re the strangers.They were the ones who lived here first.

But I only smiled at the girl.“Real nice,” I told her.“They’ll be so happy to see you.”

It wasn’t a lie, not entirely. But it was a precious, fragile hope, one that flew in the face of my sister-in-law’s words. In the video Hannah had been terrified. Send a recovery shuttle, she’d said. But I couldn’t believe it. I needed the boy, his long arms; his bright body, rank with pollen. I needed to believe that I was traveling toward something, that I was doing more than running away.

 

The others prattled and joked while the white noise of the engine whirred on and on. It had been a long day, too long. I’d been drunk and sober; terrified, and then calm again. Now my eyelids felt impossibly heavy. My limbs felt heavy too. Soon I found myself nodding off, tumbling toward the forest of my dreams.

It was the same as always, and yet the sight of it never failed to make me lose my breath.The lush landscape here wasn’t the muddled brown and green of the dome. It was purple: deep blue flowers, craning their blossoms up through the black soil; violet vines, curling toward the sun. And stranger still, it all moved, as though the plants weren’t just alive but knowing—sentient. One moment the trees would all glance up, staring into the white-gold sky.The next, they’d swivel their leaves to face me like I was a long-anticipated guest they couldn’t wait to welcome home.

At first he was nothing more than a shadow, shifting listlessly in the wind and waiting for me. I saw only his shape, his narrow waist and broad shoulders. But then he started to come closer. His movements across the soft black ground were effortless. He didn’t so much stroll as glide. Soon he stood in front of me, his body smelling sweet as summer.

I’m coming, I thought, though it was as if the words traveled through a veil of molasses. For some reason I felt unsure that they would reach him, that he would understand. Most nights we spoke with our bodies, not bothering with mouths or even thoughts. He stared up into the yellow sky.

Coming?

Yes, coming. I’ll be there soon.

But his response wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. Instead of enveloping me with his arms, drawing me close so I could feel safe from the intrusions of the world beyond, he hung his head. His words came swiftly, easily, like he was used to speaking this way.

No, no. You are not real. Cannot be…

He might as well have punched me, sinking his fist into my solar plexus and snatching away all my breath.

What do you mean? Of course I’m real. I’m right here! Just as real as you are.

No— he began, but before he could finish that thought, I reached out, grabbing his hand in mine. I pressed it to my chest, let him feel the heart that beat frantically inside.

Do you feel it? I asked. Do you? I’m here! I’m real!

He snatched his hand away, cradling it against his body like it was a wounded bird. I wanted to reach for him again, to make everything between us right and safe. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.

Behind us the forest was waiting for me, its branches cast back like a pair of open arms. I couldn’t make things better with the boy, not now, not when we still had so far to go. So I turned around and walked into the forest, into her vines, her purple light. She enveloped me, wrapping branches around my limbs, tangling her flowers through my hair. I let her. I thought I heard his voice, soft and strangled. But I paid it no mind.What was the point? He didn’t want me, not yet. But soon I would be there, standing in front of him, and he wouldn’t be able to deny me.

I let myself get lost in the wild landscape of the Zehavan jungles.

 

I was jerked from the warm, smothering dark by turbulence.

The planet filled the entirety of the glass ahead. In the morning light, clear waters sparkled. Sprawling forests were swirled with a thousand different shades of violet, crimson red, and the bluest ultramarine you could imagine. But something was wrong. The continents seemed to jiggle beneath us like old fingers, prone to tremors. I watched as Laurel wrestled with the controls, gripping the control stick, pulling hard.

“No, no, no!” she was saying through gritted teeth. I turned to the little girl.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, but of course she didn’t know.Though her legs still swam in her too big flight suit, she’d pulled them up onto the seat. She held her arms high, shielding herself from whatever was to come next. Her grandfather had slung an arm over her to protect her. I turned the other way. Rebbe Davison sat in white-knuckled silence beside Jachin.

He was my teacher, one of the smartest men on the ship. Surely he would tell me.

His forehead was wrinkled. But his expression wasn’t like it had been during school when I tried his patience, stumbling in late day after day. Back then there had been a weary humor beneath his frown. Now there was only fear.

“She entered the wrong coordinates,” he said softly, so soft at first that I almost couldn’t hear it above the engine’s roar. But Laurel did.

“I’m only a talmid!” she shouted. “I was never supposed to do this alone!”

In the seat beside her I saw Deklan reach out. He put his hand against the nape of her neck.

“Not now!” She swiped at him, smacking his hand. He shrank back. I did too, my shoulders sinking into the bucket seat. After our long flight my armpits ached, sweaty from the straps. My legs felt somehow both numb and swollen in the flight suit’s boots. But none of that mattered now.What mattered was my heart and its hard, hysterical rhythm, and the dry, shallow wheeze of my breath.

“The shuttles are meant to make a water landing.” Rebbe Davison’s words were murmured low.This time Laurel didn’t hear them. But I don’t think she was meant to.When I slid my gaze over, I saw that his gaze was firmly fixed on me. “We’re supposed to land on water.”

I peered through the glass in front.We were coming in over the northern continent where drifts of winter snow dappled the purple landscape white.The wide gulf of water was to the south of us and shrinking fast from view. I saw the craggy landscape change—saw gray dunes and the deep shadows beneath them.

Mountains.We were headed for the mountains.And from the way that the shuttle quavered as the peaks filled more and more of the glass, I knew we were about to crash.

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