Asteria Locke's Fight has just begun...
""Strickland creates a fast-moving story with plenty of action and a plucky central character, and the series' next installment will no doubt give more clues as to the nature of an evil conspiracy that involves aliens and a leading aristocratic family."" - Booklist
""Strickland's first in a new space series is that rarest of creatures: well-done Hard Science Fiction Adventure for middle grade readers. Excellent world-building, strong character development, and a swift pace will have fans of the genre eagerly anticipating Asteria's next year at the Academy."" - VOYA
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Asteria Locke's world ended quite suddenly one noon in the early summer of her thirteenth Standard year. Before that hour, she had been the daughter of a farmer on the fringe planet of Theron. Before that day, she had no brothers or sisters, but she did have a cousin who-how she envied him-had been destined to travel offworld, to study at the most prestigious school in the Empyrion. She also had a father who had once served in the Royal Empyrean Space Fleet, though her mother had been dead for a long time.
After that day, she had no one.
Yet after that day-after that hour-she set out on the long path to becoming a legend.
It all ended, and it all started, on her father's Upland farm on Frejaland, the northernmost continent of Theron. Asteria thought of it as a crowded land. It held nearly seventy thousand humans in all, counting the three who lived on the farm.
The farm perched on the high plateau called Keleran. The soil there was fertile. Carlson Locke had always told his daughter they were lucky the Empyrion had given them forty thousand hectares of such land to farm. There he had built a home, raised biodomes, become a prosperous farmer-and had married a wife and fathered one child, a girl, Asteria.
Who was currently bored out of her mind.
Asteria Locke wondered for the thousandth time why her father refused to purchase Cybots to help on the farm. Or why he would not trust the Artificial Intelligence machinery to do its job on its own. Instead he insisted that she and her cousin, Andre, help him with the crops. So here she sat in the cockpit of a massive crawling crop tender, wishing she were somewhere else. Or at least wishing for a surprise visit from her dad, spanking new Cybot in tow, to run the AI. Her wrist transceiver chirped, and she said, "Yes, Dad?"
Carlson Locke's crisp voice asked, "Where are you, Star?"
Star. Asteria wrinkled her nose at the babyish nickname. "I'm in Dome Seven. Where else would I-"
The connection broke.
"Checking up on me," muttered Asteria. You'd think he'd know that a thirteen-year-old was responsible enough to do the job without his constant micromanagement. But no. Probably came of his experience in the Royal Space Fleet. Everything had to be shipshape and military style.
The crop tender slowly rolled along, its tires (taller than she was) sticking precisely in the furrows between the plants. The pliant, flexible green blades of the coffera crop-the grain so nutritious that it made colonization of nearly barren worlds possible-folded forward under the rollers of the machine, to be scanned, evaluated, checked for parasites, and then fertilized and watered to exact specifications.
Asteria gazed up at the vast expanse of glass above her. She might as well have been fifty kilometers away...or fifty light years, for that matter. Her brain was meant for more than farming.
The high agridome was necessary, because on the Keleran Plateau, the growing season otherwise would have been short and brutally cool. The structure was so huge that she could see a drift of cloud just below the far-off ceiling. When the crops were nearing harvest, the domes became humid, and occasionally, the clouds produced a thin indoor rain, drifting down lazily in the low gravity of this world. Outside the domes waist-deep fangrass waved in chilly breezes, flashing silver and scarlet. Outside the sky overhead was deep blue, etched with streaky ice clouds. Inside, though, the air felt almost muggy.
All the readouts continued to be nominal. Hoping her father wasn't monitoring her too closely, Asteria plugged in a pulsebook. She shivered as the neural connection sent first a cold, then a warm feeling flooding down her spine. Then the book took over, and she let herself relax into the near-trance state that she loved so much. In a burst, the pulsebook planted the new chapter in her mind. It would flower not only in words but in sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. The book would become as real in her mind as a memory. It was a history book. She was up to Chapter 11, which told of the Empyrion's first encounter with the Tetras, the alien race that still posed a threat somewhere out there in the vastness of the galaxy.
In the two-thousand-and-first year of the Empyrion, under the rule of the Dantor Dynasty, the Royal Military Academy received as its priority mission the discovery and settling of additional colony worlds. The first of these were the Varrian Cluster planets, the seven worlds most like the lost home planet of Earth, with the correct balance of oxygen and water. Tolerable temperature ranges permitted-
With her eyes closed, Asteria skipped ahead. She knew all the dry background stuff already. She wanted to see the battle.
...as the Third Exploratory Fleet dropped into normal space just outside the Vigan System, for the first time humans came under attack.
In her mind's eye the massacre unreeled: The human ships were enormous, six craft in all, each carrying a complement of more than a thousand people. They looked like scale-model planets, dully gleaming silver spheres bristling with instruments and weapons.
The Tetraploid ships that assaulted them were tiny slivers by comparison: silvery spearheads so small that not even a tiny human could fit inside them. They darted in at incredible speeds, fired their weapons mercilessly-and when the human crafts' shields held, they rammed the much larger vessels. The first few impacted the shields and exploded. The following alien craft slowed until they were able to penetrate the force barrier. Whoever controlled them seemed to realize that projectiles and missiles moving at top speed were held back, but anything going slower than a thousand kilometers a second could break through.
When the small alien ships came in contact with the hulls, they exploded. The tiny, fiery eruptions made Asteria wince as the human ships-the Cancarra, Apex, Strigia, and Hosmer-blasted apart silently, one by one. The remaining two human vessels, the Concordand the Svestia, attempted to escape into translight space. Only the Svestia made it. She limped back to port with a third of her crew dead or wounded to report that for the very first time in history, humanity had encountered hostile aliens.
The Space Fleet immediately began to create a counterstrike force-
Asteria's communicator chirped again, rousing her from her reverie. "Yes, Dad?"
"Home. Now. Raiders."
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