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"[S]pectacular settings.... nothing beats learning what it's like to walk around the Moon and how the Earth appears from there.... [T]his is for anyone who's gazed longingly upward."
"Steele combines the science fiction of Robert Heinlein with modern technical knowledge and political thriller sensibilities to create a novel that should have wide appeal."
-School Library Journal
"[C]an easily rank with Heinlein's best juveniles. Indeed, it reads like one of them… if it had been updated for modern science and modern sensibilities (unlike Heinlein's young heroes, Steele's recognize the existence of females, and their potential interest)…. [A]n excellent introduction to science fiction novels for the young adult reader, and also an excellent introduction to Steele's own, extended (more adult) tales of the near-future… Highly recommended."
"The idea of teenagers on the moon seemed too good to be true as I've read other books about similar topics and they always disappointed, but not Apollo's Outcasts. I'd recommend it for anyone who loves space travel, political stories, or has a love for science fiction in general."
-Night Owl Reviews
"[A] book for young adults about living on the Moon that gets the science right and that includes an engrossing, well-crafted story....The Apollo lunar base is totally believable....The way it is handled in this book ties up all the loose ends of the story yet leaves open the possibility for more adventures set in this future world. I sure hope there are more because I can't wait to get back to Apollo!"
-National Space Society
"[A] charming Young Adult novel that should go down well with readers on the younger end of the YA scale as well as older science fiction fans in the mood for a nostalgic trip back to their own Golden Age of SF."
"Steele writes nice sci-fi action and intrigue.... The book is really great if you're just in the mood for some not-super-hard sci-fi, something there's just not enough of in YA these days."
-Forever Young Adult
On my sixteenth birthday, I went to the Moon.
"Jamey, wake up." My father's voice was soft and persistent in the darkness of my bedroom. His hand was on my shoulder, gently prodding me out of sleep. "C'mon, son ... you need to get up."
"Huh? What?" It took a few seconds for me to realize I wasn't dreaming; he really was there, and he really did want me to get up. I pried open my eyes to see him sitting on the edge of my bed, silhouetted against a sliver of light seeping in through the half-open bedroom door. It wasn't morning yet; there was no reason for me to get up so early. "Lemme 'lone," I mumbled, rolling over. "Wanna sleep."
"I'm sorry, but you have to get up." Dad shook me again, and when I didn't budge he let out a sigh. "Lights on," he said.
My bedside reading lamp and the ceiling light came on at once. "What are you doing?" I groaned, wincing against the unwelcome glare. I pulled a pillow over my face. "It's too early ..."
"I know it is, but you have to get out of bed." Dad took the pillow away from me. "And you need to hurry. I want you dressed and in your mobil in five minutes." His voice gained a no-nonsense edge as he stood up. "I mean it, Jamey. Up and at it ... now."
He left the room before I could negotiate with him, or even ask why he was doing this. I gave myself a few seconds to rub the sand from my eyes and take a deep breath, then I told the bed to elevate to sitting position. My crutches were leaning against the wall where I always left them when I went to bed. Swinging my legs over the side, I took hold of the crutches and used them to help me stand up.
On the way to the bathroom, I noticed the calendar on my desk terminal: 12:07 am Aug. 22 2097. What the ...? I thought. It's mid-night! Sure, it was my birthday, but there was no reason for him to wake me up this early.
Across the hall, I heard Melissa yell something nasty. At first I thought she was saying it to Dad, but then I heard Jan's voice and realized that Dad had given my oldest sister the task of waking up my next-oldest sister. Smart guy, my father. Melissa might be able to argue with him, but there was no way she could win a fight with Jan. But why did my sisters also have to get up, too?
Too tired to think, I put everything on automatic. A quick trip to the toilet, then I hobbled back into the bedroom and told the closet to give me something to wear. I realized that it must be unseasonably cool outside when it extended to me a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Yesterday had been pretty hot, though, and I figured that I'd probably be switching to shorts and a T-shirt by lunch time. For now, though, I'd take the home comp's advice and dress warm. I continued to lean on my crutches until I shoved my feet into a pair of mocs, then made my way over to my mobil and carefully lowered myself into it.
The mobil woke up as soon as its padded seat registered my weight. "Good morning, Jamey," it said. "You're up early."
"Tell me 'bout it."
"I'm not sure what I can tell you. If you'd be a little more specific ..."
"Never mind." I yawned and shook my head, and a sharp beep from the mobil's biosensors warned me that this small motion put a slight but noticeable strain on my upper spine. I ignored the warning as I folded my crutches and leaned over to lock them in place on the mobil's left side. "Living room," I said.
"Certainly." It started to roll forward on its two fat tires before it abruptly came to a halt. "I've just received instructions from your father. He's told me to tell you that you're to pack an overnight bag with a toilet kit and a change of clothes. And you're to hurry, too."
Okay, this was too much. "Dad!" I called out. "Why do you want me to pack a bag?"
No answer. From Melissa's room, I could hear her bickering with Jan; apparently she was even more cranky about all this than I was. I spotted my prong where I'd left it on my bedside table, and went manual to swing the mobil around so that I could pick it up. Fitting the prong into my right ear, I said, "Dad? Why do you want me to bring an overnight bag?"
"We're making a little trip, son," he replied. "You'll need to take along a few things."
"Where are we ...?"
"I'll tell you and your sister later." His voice became stern. "Please don't argue with me. Just do it."
When my father spoke like that, I knew better than to quarrel with him. So I muted the prong and turned toward the closet, where I used the mobil's manipulator arms to pull out a nylon bag and stuff it with clothes. Figuring we weren't going far, I chose cargo shorts, a light shirt, and sandals; as an afterthought, I threw my trunks and swim fins into the bag, too. Maybe this was a surprise birthday trip to Virginia Beach or somewhere else where I might be able to get in the water. Swimming was my sport, and I knew Dad wouldn't take me anywhere that I'd have to completely depend upon my mobil to get around.
I was only half-right, but I didn't know it then.
I unplugged my pad from its solar charger and stuck it in my pocket. Another visit to the bathroom for my toothbrush and my medicine box, which I tossed into the bag before I zipped it shut, then the mobil carried me out of my room. Melissa's door was half-open; she'd put on a fashionably short skirt and a halter top that showed off as much of her breasts as she dared. Looking good for the boys was a big deal to her, but her uncombed dark hair resembled a rat's nest. She glanced up from putting on her sneakers to give me a scowl that was pure hatred. Apparently she figured that her little brother was to blame for being hustled out of bed at such an ungodly hour. I ignored her as the mobil rolled past her room.
Jan's door was shut, but I could hear her moving around. I recalled what my father had said to me: I'll tell you and your sister later. Sister, not sisters; singular instead of plural. So Jan already knew what was going on. Which made sense, if you knew my family. Although she was only two years older than Melissa and four years older than me—make that about three-and-a-half, counting today's birthday—Jan was almost as much of a surrogate mother as an eldest sister. Dad never remarried after my mother died, which happened so long ago that I had no memory of her, and lately he'd come to depend on his first-born daughter to shepherd his two younger children.
Jan must have heard my mobil, because she opened the door as I rolled past her room. She wore slacks and a sleeveless T-shirt, and was tying back her long blond hair. Before she graduated from high school last year, some of her classmates used to ask me whether she was available. If you have to ask, I'd tell them, then you haven't got a chance with her ... which was both a good dodge and also the truth. Jan was as serious-minded as she was beautiful; she was going to the local community college when she should have been at MIT or Stanford simply because it allowed her to continue living at home and help Dad take care of Melissa and me. Mainly me; Melissa wasn't the one who'd be good as dead if she fell out of her chair when no one else was around. So getting and keeping a boyfriend was the farthest thing from Jan's mind.
"You've got your —?" she started to say, then she spotted the bag in my lap and nodded. "Oh, okay ... good. Dad's waiting for you."
"Yeah, I know." I stopped the mobil. "What's going on?" I asked, dropping my voice to a whisper. "Where are we going?"
Jan didn't say anything, but instead regarded me with a solemn gaze with which I was familiar. A long time ago, we'd reached an agreement: ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies. I knew at once that this was one of those times. "You need to hurry," she finished, turning away from me. "I'll be there in a minute." And then she glanced back and smiled. "Oh, and by the way ... happy birthday."
"Thanks," I said, even as a chill went down my back. I knew that Jan hadn't answered my question because Dad had told her to lie to me if I asked. And because she wasn't going to do that, this meant that whatever was happening here was serious. Really serious.
The living room was dark save for the reading lamp above Dad's lounger, and I noticed that the curtains had been drawn. The kitchen lights were on, though, and I saw that the back door was open. I took me a second to put all this together. Although the mobil could climb down the back steps if necessary, the front door had a ramp for my convenience. So if the living room lights were off and Dad had propped open the kitchen door, that meant that he didn't want any of our neighbors to see that we were about to leave.
Nonetheless, I was more curious than apprehensive as I rolled through the kitchen to the back door. The night was colder than I expected, the first chill of approaching autumn setting upon our suburban Maryland neighborhood of two-century wood-frame houses. Our van was parked in the driveway, its side-hatch already open and its ramp extended. In the luminescence cast by the dome light, I spotted the top of my father's grey-haired head. He appeared to be kneeling beside the open driver's side door, working on something beneath the dashboard.
Dr. Stanley Barlowe was a scientist, but he'd never been much of a mechanic; what was he doing down there? Dad raised his head to peer over the front seats as my mobil lowered its auxiliary climbing wheels and began to slowly descend the back steps. "Jamey ... good! You have your bag? Excellent." He pointed the screwdriver in his hand toward the van's rear compartment. "Get on in. I'll find your sisters as soon as I'm done here."
"Dad, why are we ...?"
"Not now." His head disappeared again; the quiet snap of a service panel being shut, then he stood up and walked around the back of the van, the household tool kit in his left hand. "Climb on in. I'll be back in a sec."
I'd maneuvered the mobil into the van and had just finished clamping its wheels within the floor chocks when Jan appeared. She was carrying a small bag of her own, and she gave me a nervous smile that was meant to be reassuring—and wasn't—before she opened the back gate and tossed the bag into the back. "You okay there?" she asked as she strode past the side hatch on her way to the front passenger door. "Want me to put your bag back with mine?"
"No, that's okay." I liked having the bag in my lap; it gave me some small comfort. A quick glance at the kitchen door; neither Dad nor Melissa were in sight. "Jan, please ... will you tell me what ...?"
"No!" Melissa yelled. "I don't want to go on some stupid trip! It's the middle of the night and I just want to sleep!"
She appeared in the kitchen door, hauling a sequined pink overnight bag as if it was loaded with bricks, complaining every step of the way. Dad must have made her change; the teenage-slut outfit was gone, replaced by jeans and a hooded pullover. But her hair was still a mess, and it must have irritated her to no end that she was being forced to leave the house before she had a chance to spend an hour primping at her mirror just in case she happened to meet the boy of her dreams.
Dad was right behind her. "You're going, MeeMee—" our family nickname for her, which she detested, "and that's final." He planted a hand against her shoulder, not exactly shoving her down the steps but not giving her any choice in the matter either. "Now get in the van with your brother and sister."
"But I haven't even showered ...!"
"Melissa." Jan jerked a thumb toward the back seat next to where I'd parked my mobil. "Get in. Now."
That shut her up. Melissa might give Dad trouble, and she seldom listened to me, but when Jan put a certain tone in her voice, she knew better than to argue. Seventeen years of futile resistance had taught Melissa a few lessons she'd never forgotten; Jan wasn't a bully, but she didn't back down either. A final, melodramatic sigh, then Melissa marched around behind the van, taking a second to hurl her pink bag into the back before yanking open the rear passenger door and climbing in to sit beside me. A cold glare in my direction—say anything and I'll murder you—was meant to keep me meek and quiet, but I couldn't help myself.
"Nice bag," I said.
"Drop dead." She pulled out her pad and started to tap something into it. No doubt she was about to text her friends—all 78,906 of them—and tell them her tale of woe.
Dad saw this. "Melissa ... no, you can't do that." Before she could object, he reached forward and took the pad from her. "I'm sorry, but this is something you can't talk about."
She squawked about this, but he wasn't listening to her. He took the pad into the house and returned a moment later without it. Melissa could always buy another one from the next vending machine she saw, of course, but as my father closed the back door and used his remote to lock it, I realized again that secrecy was something he was taking very seriously.
Dad slammed shut the van's side hatch and rear gate, then climbed into the driver's seat. He thumbed the ignition; the engine beeped twice, but he didn't switch on the headlights. Instead, he placed his hands on the wheel and slowly pulled forward, moving down our short driveway to the street so unobtrusively that even the neighbor's cat couldn't have been awakened.
But when he turned right and drove past our house, I noticed that he'd left the bedroom lights on. That wasn't like him ... unless he was deliberately trying to give the impression that we were still home. And it wasn't until we were away from the house that he finally switched on the headlights.
"Okay," Melissa said, "I've had it. I've really had it. I want to know ..."
"Be quiet, MeeMee, and listen to me." Dad glanced back in my direction. "You, too, Jamey. This is important, and I only want to say it once." He paused, taking a deep breath as he slowly drove through our darkened neighborhood. "I know this is unexpected, and I know you'd rather still be in bed. If there was any other way ..."
He stopped himself, then went on. "Something has come up, and you've got to leave. Not tomorrow, but now ... right now. So I can't have any arguments or disagreements from anyone. I just need for you to do what I say, with no ifs or buts about it. Understand?"
Jan nodded, even through his words weren't meant for her. Melissa opened her mouth to protest, but then she caught Dad staring at her through the rear-view mirror. Apparently she realized that this was a bad time to be hard-to-please MeeMee, because she sulkily folded her arms across her chest and nodded.
"I understand," I said, "but ... why won't you tell us what's going on?"
My father didn't respond, but Jan did. "Trust me, mon petit frère ... the less you know, the safer you'll be."
That's when I began to get scared.
* * *
Burtonsville, the town where we lived, is just north of Washington, DC, about a quarter of the way to Baltimore. Dad got on I-95 just outside of town and headed south. This was the route he normally commuted to his job at the International Space Consortium's American headquarters in DC. He went to hover mode and retracted the wheels, but he didn't switch to auto. Instead, he kept his hands on the steering wheel, carefully watching the dashboard display so that he kept within the 80 mph speed limit. That wasn't legal; cars on the interstate were required to be navigated by the local traffic control system unless there was an emergency.
Melissa noticed this, too. "You're going to get pulled over," she said, smug in her knowledge that our father was breaking the law.
"No, I'm not," Dad replied, not looking back at her. "I removed the GPS and traffic control chips before we left and put in ringers instead. So far as anyone is concerned, we're still parked in the driveway." He pointed to the traffic scanners we passed every hundred yards. "When they tag us, the phony chips identify us as another car and tell the system we're on auto. So long as I maintain a constant speed and don't make any strange moves ..."
"It'll think we're someone else and won't be able to track us," I finished. "But why ...?"
Jan gave me one of her looks—no questions, Jamey—and I shut up. At least I knew what my father had been doing when I caught him beneath the dashboard. And I had little doubt as to where he'd been able to lay his hands on outlaw tech like this; ISC was full of guys who could make ringers in their basement workshops. But Dad had always been the law-abiding type. Why would he do something like this?
From behind us, the warble of a siren. Turning my head, I looked back through the rear window to see flashing blue lights. A Maryland state trooper, approaching fast.
"Dad ..." Jan had spotted it, too. "Do you think ...?"
"No. Take it easy." Without reducing speed, my father moved quickly and easily from the center lane to the right, just as cars under traffic control would do. But he seemed to be holding his breath as the police cruiser came up on us. For a moment, I thought my father was wrong and that we were about to be pulled over. But then the cop flashed by ...
Excerpted from APOLLO'S OUTCASTS by ALLEN STEELE Copyright © 2012 by Allen Steele. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted April 10, 2013