The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch . . .
A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass tech whiz with the galaxy's biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger-management issues
A tomboy pilot who's totally not into him, in case you were wondering
And Ty's squad isn't even his biggest problemthat'd be Aurora Jie-Lin O'Malley, the girl he's just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler's squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.
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I’m gonna miss the Draft.
The Hadfield is disintegrating around me. Black arcs of quantum lightning are melting the ship’s hull to slag. My spacesuit is screaming seventeen different alarms, the lock on this damn cryogenic pod still won’t open, and that’s the one thought blaring in my head. Not that I should’ve stayed in my rack and gotten a good night’s sleep. Not that I should’ve just ignored the damn distress call and headed back to Aurora Academy. And not that this is a really stupid way to die.
Nope. Looking death right in the face, Tyler Jones, Squad Leader, First Class, is thinking one thing, and one thing only.
I’m gonna miss the damn Draft.
I mean, you work your whole life for a Thing, it’s only natural the Thing be important to you. But most rational people would consider getting vaporized inside a derelict spaceship drifting through interdimensional space just a little more important than school. That’s all I’m saying.
I look down at the girl sleeping inside the cryopod. She has shortish black hair, with a strange white streak running through her bangs. Freckles. A gray jumpsuit. Her expression is the kind of blissful you only see on babies or the cryogenically frozen.
I wonder what her name is.
I wonder what she’d say if she knew she was about to get me killed.
And I shake my head, muttering over the scream of my suit alarms as the ship around me begins to tear itself into a million burning pieces.
“She better be worth it, Jones.”
Let’s back it up a little.
About four hours, to be exact. I know they say to start your story at the exciting bit, but you need to know what’s going on here so you can actually care about me getting vaporized. Because me getting vaporized is totally gonna suck.
So. Four hours ago, I’m in my dorm at Aurora Academy. I’m staring up at the underside of Björkman’s mattress and praying to the Maker that our training officers throw some kind of grav-failure or fire drill at us. The night before the Draft, they’ll probably just let us get some rest. But I’m praying anyway, because:
(a) Even though he never snores, Björkman is snoring now, and I can’t sleep.
(b) I’m wishing my dad could be there to see me tomorrow, and I can’t sleep.
(c) It’s the night before the Draft, and I. CAN’T. SLEEP.
I dunno why I’m so worked up. I should be cool as ice. I’ve aced every exam. Finished top of almost every class. Ninetyninth percentile of all cadets in the academy.
Jones, Tyler, Squad Leader, First Class.
Goldenboy. That’s what the other Alphas call me. Some throw it as an insult, but I take it as a compliment. Nobody worked harder than me to get here. Nobody worked harder once they arrived. And now all that work is about to pay off, because tomorrow is the Draft and I’ve earned four of the top five picks, and I’m gonna have the best squad a senior class in Aurora Academy has ever seen.
So why can’t I sleep?
Surrendering with a long sigh, I climb out of my bunk, drag on my uniform, drag my hand through my blond hair. And shooting a look at Björkman that I wish could kill—or at least mute—I slap the door control pad and stalk out into the corridor, cutting off his snores behind me.
It’s late: 02:17 station clock. The illumination is set low to simulate nighttime, but the fluorescent strips in the floor light up as I mooch down the hallway. I ping my sister, Scarlett, on my uniglass, but she doesn’t answer. I think about pinging Cat, but she’s probably asleep. Like I should be.
I wander past a long plasteel window, looking at the Aurora star burning beyond, gilding the frame’s edge in palest gold. In old Terran mythology, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn. She heralded the coming of daylight, the end of night. Someone back in the day gave her name to a star, and that star gave its name to the academy now orbiting it, and the Aurora Legion I’ve given my life to.
Five years I’ve lived here. Signed up the day I turned thirteen, my twin sister right beside me. The recruiter on New Gettysburg Station remembered our dad. Told us he was sorry. Promised we’d make the bastards pay. That Dad’s sacrifice—all our soldiers’ sacrifices—wouldn’t be for nothing.
I wonder if I still believe that. I should be sleeping.
I don’t know where I’m going.
Except I know exactly where I’m going.
Stalking down the corridor toward the docking bay. Jaw clenched.
Hands in my pockets to hide the fists.
Four hours later, I’m pounding those same fists on the cryopod’s seal.
The chamber around me is filled with a hundred pods just like it, all rimed with a layer of pale frost. The ice cracks a little under my blows, but the seal isn’t opening. My uniglass is running a wireless hack on the lock, but it’s too slow.
If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m dead.
Another shock wave hits the Hadfield, shaking the whole ship. There’s no gravity in the derelict, so I can’t fall. But I’m hanging on to the cryopod, which means I still get whipped around like a kid’s toy, smashing my spacesuit’s helmet into another pod and adding one more alarm to the seventeen already blaring in my ears.
Warning: suit integrit y breach. h20 reservoir compromised.
Uh-oh . . .
The girl in the cryopod frowns in her sleep like she’s having a bad dream. For a moment, I consider what it’s gonna mean for her if we make it out of this alive.
And then I feel something wet at the base of my skull. Inside my helmet. I twist my head and try to spot the problem, and the wetness sloshes across the back of my neck, surface tension gluing it to my skin. I realize my drinking tube has ruptured. That my hydration tanks are emptying into my helmet. That even if this FoldStorm doesn’t kill me, in about seven minutes, my helmet is gonna fill with water and I’m gonna be the first human I’ve ever heard of to drown in space.
If we make it out of this alive? “No chance,” I mutter.