EXCLUSIVE: Read the first chapter of The Disasters by M.K. England!


We love Illuminae and Heart of Iron. We bet you do, too, which means your next read should be The Disasters by M.K. England!

It’s no surprise trouble-making, hotshot pilot Nax Hall is kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in just one day. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats. They may not even get along, but they’re the only ones who know the truth… and the only ones left to step up and fight.

The Disasters releases on December 18, with signed books available through Over The Moon Bookstore. Read the first chapter below!


Name: Nasir Alexander “Nax” Hall

Admission Status: Denied


I’ve been at Ellis Station Academy for exactly twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours, and I’ve already washed out.

Honestly, I’m not even surprised.

I shove a wadded-up, still-clean pair of boxers into my travel bag, right next to the brand-new Academy T-shirt I just bought yesterday. May as well burn it now. Maybe I’ll light it on fire and hoist it up the flagpole at Command once I’m back on Earth soil.

A cluster of guys sprawls across the back wall of the barracks, laughing as they pass their exam scores around. They’re either too oblivious to know how loud they are or they just don’t care, but I hear every word of their conversation.

“Why’d he even bother unpacking? He thought he was such hot shit in the cockpit, but y’all saw how that went.”

My flight papers crumple in my hand, and I breathe in, slow and deep, barely resisting the urge to put my fist right in the asshole’s face. Like I really need a reminder when my brain keeps up a constant lecture on how much of a screwup I am.

Only one other person from my high school made it to the Academy, and of course it had to be Tucker Fineman. Somehow this guy, who once got high in a cornfield on laughing gas stolen from his mother’s dental practice, is worthy of being an Academy pilot. And I’m not.

I thought I hated him back home, but apparently his douchery hadn’t yet achieved its greatest heights. He waltzed into the exam room this morning with a fake smile and a cheesy handshake, like some kind of wannabe politician. I held my breath through his whole entrance interview, waiting for him to spill all my dirt, tell the examiners every reason they should send me home.

He never did. Turns out I didn’t need his help getting kicked out anyway.

But if asshats like Tucker are what they’re looking for in future colonists, then it’s no wonder they decided to pass on the cow-town failboat. Me.

I dump a pile of travel-sized toiletries on top of my packed clothes and tug at the zipper. It resists me, of course, because nothing would make this day better than missing the shuttle back to Earth because I’m too incompetent to even zip my bag. I yank it once, twice, and it closes bit by bit . . . until finally it breaks altogether.

I stare at the bag. The bag stares back.

Finally I pick up it up by the shoulder strap and storm out of the room, followed by snickering whispers and a trail of leaking mouthwash.

Left turn, then right turn, past staff-only doors and high voltage area warnings. Eyes up and forward. Don’t meet anyone’s gaze. Something hot and terrible burns in my chest every time an Academy student walks by with squared shoulders and straight back, laughing, the Academy logo prominent on their chest and sleeves. I count air vents in the ceiling and breathe.

Uniformed instructors and students slowly give way to working officers and plainclothes citizens as I cross from the Academy wing into the common area of Ellis Station. Behind me, new students settle in for their training—six months for civilians relocating to the colonies, and anywhere from one to four years for pilots and officers. Ahead of me, people who have completed their training prepare for their one-way trip out into the black, looking forward to their new lives.

I get neither option. I get awkward parental silences and overly formal politeness instead. Whoo.

The terminal for Earth-bound shuttles isn’t far, but my ride is supposed to arrive any minute, so I break into a light jog. My deodorant bounces out of my open bag and clatters to the floor behind me, but I’ve got no shits left to give for it. Honestly, if I miss this shuttle, I think I’d rather swim back to Earth without a vacuum suit than stay here for a second longer. The bright outline of Earth glows through the viewports like a taunt, casting eerie shadows over the craggy lunar terrain beyond. The silhouettes of the old cargo tunnels connecting the station to the abandoned first settlement slice through the light like something out of a nightmare. They seemed massive and beautiful when I arrived this morning.

Now they’re just ugly.

One more left turn, and I’m there. Through the enormous bay window, the arrival/departure board glows with a single flight status: mine, marked as ARRIVING SOON. I haven’t missed it. I’d be thankful, but I was actually starting to look forward to that little vacuum walk. Probably better than showing my face back home after screwing up yet another thing.

My parents will be nice enough about it, like they always are, but “nice” and “disappointed in their loser son” aren’t mutually exclusive. Nothing like a lecture about good life choices with a side of motherly weeping in the morning. Can’t wait. They watched me play pilot while herding the goats out in the field behind the house from age five until embarrassingly recently. Now that future is impossible. Their pity will be excruciating.

At least the golden boy won’t be there to witness my grand return and scold me like a child. Malik actually got his one-way ticket to life in the colonies. Of course. It’s cool, I’ll just live with my ammi and dad for the rest of my life, feeding the chickens and flying simulators.

The terminal door is blocked by a black guy about my age locked in conversation with none other than Dr. Herrera herself, the headmaster of the Academy. The guy stands straight and confident, his expression calm, with long English vowels smooth and reasonable on his tongue. His well-fitted polo shirt bears the crest of the School of Colonial Relations stitched over the right side.

Another wannabe politician type. Great.

“Surely there’s something we can work out,” he says, oozing charm, but apparently the conversation is already over. Dr. Herrera cuts him off with a sharp gesture.

“You made your choice, Rion. Now you have to live with it. Excuse me,” she says, glancing at her watch as she dashes away. The guy’s cool mask slides into a scowl, and he runs a hand through his dyed-red hair. I catch his eye and grin.

“Guess that means you’re with me,” I say with false cheer. “What’d you do to get kicked out?”

His lip curls. “Piss off, wanker.”

Ooh, never been sworn at in an English accent before. Can’t say I mind it.

Rion snatches his posh leather travel bag off the ground and slaps the door control. A green light blinks as the system verifies the breathable atmosphere beyond, then it whooshes open in a rush of stale, recycled air tinged with engine fluids and exhaust. Mechanics and deckhands shout orders and off-color jokes to one another down on the flight deck, their voices echoing in the vast landing bay, mingling with the clanging of tools and the hiss of pressurizing airlocks.

Two girls are already seated at the small cluster of uncomfortable metal chairs bolted to the floor at the back of the bay, underneath the LANDING ZONE 6 sign. We get a special late-evening shuttle just for us, coming to whisk away the freaks and failures under the cover of dimmed hallways and lights-out orders. They may as well glue my feet to the ground once we’re back planetside. This is the only space piloting program, and I can’t reapply for five years. But why bother, only to fail out again? I’m done.

The two girls in the waiting area are a study in contrasts. The blond white girl compulsively bounces her right leg, constantly in motion, staring off into the distance. The other girl is utterly still, practically a statue, her face hidden behind warm brown hands and solid black semitextured hair. Neither seems terribly open to conversation, which is fine by me. I’d rather sit and wallow in silence. I wish they had let us bring our tablets to the Academy; at least then I could play some Starhunters and ignore everyone. I walk up and drop my bag, and the darker-haired girl startles at the noise.

“Whoa, on edge much?” I ask, jumping up onto a chair and seating myself on top of the back.

“Oh, bite me.” Now that she’s looking up, I recognize her; someone in the flight school dorms pointed her out over lunch, said she was one of those college-at-fifteen prodigy types. Some kind of genius. Her accent is 90 percent New York City, 10 percent Spanish, much sharper than my mostly suppressed North Carolina drawl. Her eyes are sharp and intelligent, a beautiful hazel brown that I study for a moment too long, and framed by arched eyebrows that telegraph how completely unimpressed with me she is.

“You know your gear’s covered in shaving cream?” she says with innocent sweetness.

I glance down. Sure enough, my shaving-cream can seems to have exploded on impact. Rion gives it a wide berth as he claims a chair for himself, setting his fancy bag down with much more care.

I scoop up a bit of the blue foam from my bag and flick it away. “It’s just my Academy shirt, and it’s not like I’ll be needing that anymore. Why are you all still wearing yours?” I sneer. “If you’re here, that means you failed out. Still clinging to the dream?”

As soon as the words are out, I wish I could call them back, but it’s like I’m watching someone else be an unbearable asshole and I’m too far away to intervene. Genius Girl purses her lips and looks away, crossing her arms over the tech school’s pointed logo on her shirt, but not before I catch the flash of hurt in her eyes. Rion glares up at me from behind long lashes, disapproving.

“Everyone’s so uptight,” I mutter, eyeing the guy up. He’s broader than me—I’m more the long, lean soccer-player type—and he’s clean-shaven, compared to my perpetual irritating stubble. His face is angular and handsome underneath his tight curls, with narrow eyes that I’d much rather see bright with humor than glaring at me.

Oops. Too late now.

At the far end of the seating area, the other girl finally looks our way. She shoves her blond hair back from her face, revealing bright streaks of blue at her temples and perfect eyeliner around gray-green eyes. Her toned legs say athlete, but she’s wearing the red-and-white of the Academy Medical Corps. I shift in my seat under her level gaze.

“You’re right, though,” she says, her accented consonants pointed and precise. Russian or something. “There’s no point in clinging. They told me right at the start of the entrance interview that I shouldn’t have even made it through prescreening. Apparently the colonies are in desperate need of doctors, but not desperate enough to take me. It is what it is, right?”

Genius Girl knits her brows and frowns. “That’s awful. Why’d they wash you out?”

Dr. Eyeliner shrugs.

“It’s personal,” she says with a wry smile. “Sorry. What about you?”

Genius Girl is quiet for a long moment.

“It’s personal,” she finally echoes, combing her fingers through the ends of her tied-back hair. Everyone watches her, waiting for her to elaborate, but all she says is “I just want to go home.”

Rion snorts. “I want literally anything other than home.”

Dr. Eyeliner reaches over for a silent fist bump of solidarity.

A low, soothing tone reverberates through the landing bay, and a wave of blinking red lights chases around the edge of the huge transparent doors holding the vacuum of space at bay. We all turn to watch as a boxy, blue-striped Earth Command shuttle maneuvers into place beyond the outer doors. A calm voice drones over the interior speakers: “Warning. External doors opening.” The shuttle nudges forward, and the doors slide shut behind it, trapping it in the transfer airlock. A hissing sound, a warning klaxon, then the voice again: “Inner doors opening.”

As the internal doors crack open to admit the shuttle, I close my eyes and breathe slowly through my nose, willing the burning in the corners of my eyes to ease. This is it. The official, final, irreversible end to the only thing I’ve ever really wanted. The only time I’ll see the colonies for the rest of my life will be when I’m sprawled on the couch in my friend’s basement, playing Settlement III and covered in Cheetos dust.

I steal a quick glance at my companions, the Fail Class of 2194. Genius Girl takes deep, calming breaths through her nose, her face twisted with pain. Rion’s eyes are blank, locked on his folded hands. Eyeliner is on edge, though, her gaze suddenly sharp. She points toward the shuttle as it settles to the deck a hundred yards away from us and to the right. There’s a weird splash of color out of place, something bright blue and green on the starboard side.

“What’s that on—?”

The lights go out.

The all-station alarm shrieks, the sound reverberating through the vast landing bay in a piercing cacophony. I drop to the floor on pure instinct, crouching behind the row of metal chairs, my heart hammering against my rib cage.

“Communication system failure. Warning. Communication system fail—”


I poke my head above the chairs just in time to see shadowy figures spill from the newly arrived shuttle, bathed in the dim red glow of the emergency lights. My entire body goes stiff. There are at least six of them, clad in all-black combat-grade vacuum suits and moving in tight, precise formation. Four of them break off and head straight for the doors that lead to the station’s main control room. They pause near the traffic controller’s booth, and there’s a sound like a tiny, faraway gunshot. A distant thud, and the figures continue on.

This is not right, so not right. My harsh breaths echo in my ears, and my stomach is singing a reprise of the evening’s gravy potatoes. I look to Genius Girl, can just barely see the outline of her face in the dark. The whites of her eyes are wide as she grabs my sleeve.

“There are still two of them in here,” she whispers, just as the two commandos pick off a group of mechanics with six quick shots. Genius Girl barely suppresses a scream when the bodies hit the deck.

“They stayed behind to guard their shuttle,” Eyeliner says. I nearly jump out of my skin. She’s crouched directly next to me; I didn’t even hear her move.

The overhead speaker crackles again, but the voice is garbled. “Lifeboat access locked. Life support error in-in-in-in atmospherics. Estimated breathable air remaining: two—”

Silence, but for the distant hissing rush of air escaping into space.

“Two what?” Genius Girl snaps, her voice loud enough that I check for movement near the shuttle. “Two hours? Two minutes? Two seconds?”

“One minute, forty-fi—” the speaker adds, and our eyes meet, all four of us.

“We have to get to the lifeboats,” Rion says, but Genius Girl cuts him off.

“They’re locked, were you even listening? We have to—”

“The shuttle, now!” I snap.

I explode from my crouch and dash off into the darkness, not bothering to check if the others are behind me, my breath rasping harsh in my throat. There’s no time for subtlety, so I run as fast as I can, cutting left and right at random, my long legs tearing up the hundred yards between us and the shuttle. If the intruders have a chance to aim, we’re dead, but if it’s death by shooting or death by asphyxiation, I’ll eat a bullet any day. My heart leaps into my throat, but I have to keep it together, keep it together, run, don’t lose it—

Eyeliner catches up easily and slaps my arm, interrupting my panic. “I have the guard on the left,” she says, and breaks away, leaping over a discarded tool chest with powerful grace. Definitely an athlete.

Another tiny gunshot cracks from somewhere, and there’s a disturbance in the air as the bullet whizzes by my ear. The adrenaline of the near miss hits me like a sledgehammer. No time to think, no time—

“One minute, thirty seconds breathable air rema—” The speaker cuts off again.

We reach the ship.

I have a half a second to process the gun barrel hovering a meter from my face, illuminated by the terminal’s pale emergency track lighting. I drop, the gun goes off, and I ram my fist between my assailant’s legs.


No balls. I’m screwed.

A slight oof comes from above me, but then the pistol whips down and catches me on the shoulder. I’m about to kiss my ass good-bye when a boot swings out of nowhere and rams into the woman’s kidney, quickly followed by a second boot to the head. The woman drops to the ground, motionless, and cool relief floods through me. Dr. Eyeliner to the rescue. Holy hell, this girl is a powerhouse.

“Come on!” Eyeliner urges, fumbling for my arm. Beyond her, Rion and Genius Girl charge up the narrow ramp and into the ship. I hope there are no more commandos up there to greet them.

“Go, I’m right behind you,” I tell her as I relieve the passed-out woman of her gun. If action movies have taught me anything, it’s never leave the gun behind.

I hit the controls for the docking ramp behind me, make sure it’s set to lock, whirl around, and charge down the central corridor. The others are already crammed into the cockpit, strapped into the crew seats. Genius Girl sits in the navigator’s seat, but the pilot’s chair is empty.

“Tell me you have a flight permit,” Genius Girl says as soon as I trip through the door. She’s tapping furiously at the touchscreen display and doesn’t look up, the light of the screen glowing over her face.

I wince, an instant jolt of fear stabbing into my heart. “Uh, not exactly.”

Rion swears creatively. I hold up my hands, then realize I’m still holding the gun and flick on the safety. Whoops. My ammi the police officer would be horrified with me right now.

“Hey, I didn’t say I couldn’t fly!” I slide into the pilot’s seat, set the gun down on a side console, and grab the control wheel with shaking hands. “Just not legally.”

Flying is what I came to the Academy for, after all. Can’t have a space piloting permit until they say I can, and they’ve already made their feelings on that perfectly clear. Should I tell them I’ve never flown a real ship, just simulators? Should I tell them about—

Well. What would be the point of that? I’m our only option, apparently. Better to just get my shit together and do this.

Yeah. I can do this.

I adjust the seat until my feet fit comfortably on the rudder pedals, blow out a slow breath, then look over at Genius Girl. “Any chance we can get those bay doors open, or do we have to do this the explodey way?”

“I’ve almost got it,” she snaps back. “Scans show four more ships on the edges of Academy space, by the way, 269 by 53 by 620. You should see them on your heads-up display once we’re out of here.”

I wipe my sweaty palms on my pant legs and grip the controls again, glancing up at the HUD. “Great. Fantastic. Anyone religious? Want to say some prayers, maybe sing a hymn or two?”

Dr. Eyeliner forces a smile when I peek back around my chair, but Rion only taps his fingers against his folded arms, eyes fixed on the viewport. No one’s impressed by my attempt at levity, but it helps tame the writhing ball of nerves in my stomach all the same. Flying by myself? Fine. That would be fine. If I screw something up and get myself killed, that’s my problem.

But all these other people in the ship with me?

I close my eyes to the vivid memory of flashing ambulance lights, twisted metal, and blood, my brother’s voice and the sirens melding into a blaring alarm in my mind.

“Got it!” Genius Girl says. My eyes snap open, and true to her word, the inner bay doors creep apart. I take a deep breath, say bismillah in my head, and steady my hands.

I feed some power to the magnetic coils, and the ship lifts smoothly off the deck. Okay, good so far. I can do this. Slowly, carefully, I spin us around and ease the throttle open. The ship jerks forward, way too fast.

“Open the outer doors!” I shout as we careen past the first opening.

“I’m trying!” Genius Girl taps away. The doors stay stubbornly closed. I ease back on the controls and tip the ship up, bringing the magnetic coils to bear on the closed doors in front of us, which bounces us back the other way, toward the closing inner doors. This is the worst game of Pong ever.

Someone behind me makes that hissing inhale-between-the-teeth noise my ammi used to make when she was teaching me to fly. I’d floor it and go hurtling down Route 401, racing past the cornfields, and she’d make that sound as she held her hair out of her eyes with one hand and choked the life out of the oh-shit handle with the other.

I hate that sound.

The outer doors finally begin their slow parting, and as soon as the gap is large enough I push the throttle wide open. The sudden momentum slams me deeper into my chair, my favorite feeling in the world. Simulators never quite got it right—it’s even better in a real ship. My stomach swoops as the shuttle’s inertial dampener struggles to compensate, and three terrified screams replace the irritating hiss as we hurtle toward the still-opening doors.

Much better.

My timing is fine, though, of course it is, and we rocket through the opening with several generous inches on either side of the stubby wings. The screams die out as we roar away from the moon’s craggy surface, toward the gentle blue glow of the Rock.

I put the ship through a little barrel roll just because I can. I can’t resist, even though my brain is half waiting for the ship to explode underneath me or careen out of control without warning. The controls feel different, somehow. More . . . physical, like I can feel the ship as an extension of my feet and hands. I pull few more maneuvers to get it out of my system, grinning like little-kid me running through the field with his arms out like wings.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Rion calls from behind me. “You! You’re that asshole all the pilot trainees were bitching about, aren’t you? The guy that showed up with a perfect score on the prescreening flight exam.”

“Yeah, that was me.” I grin, letting it cover up the hollow ache in my chest. It started so well, but obviously it didn’t end that way.

“Seriously?” he says. “How in the hell did you manage to fail out?”

“Bigger problems, guys,” Genius Girl cuts in. “Point us back toward the station so we can see, hotshot.”

I do as she asks, and we swing around just in time to see the billowing clouds of escaping oxygen from the station taper off, then cease altogether. And all at once, the gravity of the situation hits.

“Did they manage to keep the last of the atmosphere from venting?”

I know the truth even as I ask.

No one stopped it. The station ran out of air.

“I’m only getting a handful of heat signatures from the entire station. They’re all . . .” Genius Girl trails off, her voice thick with tears.

Tucker Fineman is dead. We went to high school together. I just saw him fifteen minutes ago.

The guy I passed who was cleaning out the vac-suit lockers . . . did he manage to get one on in time? Is he dead, too?

And it’s not just the Academy, but all of Ellis Station. The emigration port. The warehouses. The laboratories. All of the air from the whole station, gone.

All of those people, gone.

My stomach is hollow.

I dial back the throttle and let us drift for a moment. The emptiness of space surrounds us, swallows us up in blackness. Stars fill the void beyond the curve of the moon’s surface, beyond the reflected light of Earth, dotting the endless horizon with glittering points of brightness.

It’s silent in the cockpit for a moment. Just four strangers breathing the same air. Being alive. Trying to process. Who would do this? Why would they do this?

Finally Eyeliner speaks. “Should we try to hail the station? See if any of those heat signatures are survivors? Maybe they were able to—”

Then the comm crackles. “All ships, you are clear to approach along your assigned vectors. The station has been neutralized.”

The speakers hiss, then a different voice takes over. “Acknowledged, lead. Should we expect resistance?”

“We cut communications before Earth could be alerted. Clean and quiet. Our insiders are adjusting the logs and flooding the station with fresh atmosphere. We’ll be ready by the time you dock. Everything should look status quo from the surface.”

Insiders? Someone on the station knew this was going to happen? And helped? My breath catches in my throat, and I turn to Genius Girl. “We have to tell someone.”

She nods, mouth hard and eyes blazing. “I’ll open a link with Command down on the planet. It’ll give away our position, but the GCC shou— Break hard starboard!”

My hands and feet obey before my brain processes her words, and the ship flips up and to our right. A missile flashes past the viewport, and new voice crackles from the comm, lean and assertive.

“Alpha, this is Tiger Five. Two Flight has located the rogue shuttle. Terminating now.”

“Good hunting, Tiger Squadron.”

I jam my foot down on the rudder pedal, banking hard as a stream of bullets flashes past. Two hard maneuvers in a row, in an unfamiliar ship, and I’m completely disoriented.

Gotta angle for Earth, shitshitshit, which way is . . .

I spend a precious two seconds studying my instruments, then swing us around to port and tip the nose of the shuttle back. Earth comes into view, a long arc of blue backlit by the sun. With my brain finally calibrated correctly, I open the throttle wide again, prepared this time for the feeling of my organs being squished against the back of my rib cage. Two hundred thirty-nine thousand miles from Ellis Station on the moon to Earth Command down on the surface. My heart pounds deafeningly loud in my ears. I can’t screw this up, gotta keep us alive, we’re the only ones who know.

A flash of color in front of us, two, and a hail of cracking gunfire. Our shields handle most of it, but a single ping of metal-on-metal sounds from the aft, sending a coughing vibration through the ship. Not good, not good . . .

“Damn bastards!” I yank back on the controls as the HUD blares a shrill warning. Missile lock. Again. One of the fighters is on our tail, and there are at least three others circling around, skilled and confident predators. I wasn’t actually planning on dying today, and as much as I didn’t want to be stuck back down on the Rock, I like this even less.

“Another flight incoming!” Genius Girl reports. “About thirty seconds out. They’re cutting us off.”

I blow out a breath. Steady my hands on the sweat-slick controls. Push down the panic clanging in my skull.

“Okay. Unless you’d like to go home with significantly more holes, I think we need a plan B here,” I shout over the ship’s groaning complaints and alarms. “All cards on the table, y’all, because there’s no way we’re gonna make it back to the Rock. This is a clunky-ass shuttle, not a fighter jet, and I can’t keep these assholes dancing forever.”

Rion leans forward, gets a hand on the back of my chair. “Let’s fight back,” he shouts in my ear, then loses his grip as I cut the throttle and pull a hard maneuver. A fighter goes sailing past. “I’m a good shot. We can do this!”

“Yeah, great idea! Only we’ll have to hang you out the window and let you throw rocks at them, because, once again, this is a damned shuttle, not a fighter. We’re toothless,” I shoot back. A politician who’s good with weapons? There’s a scary thought. Where did the fourth fighter go? What I wouldn’t give for a ship with weapons right now. . . .

“Call for reinforcements, then,” Rion says.

The shields flicker for a brief moment.

“We’re being jammed,” Genius Girl yells in between bursts of gunfire. She flips a switch, and the cockpit speakers hiss with random garbled patterns.

“Well, fix it!” I jerk the controls hard, throwing everyone against their restraints, just in time to avoid another missile.

“I can’t find a clear frequency!”

I grit my teeth. The nearest fighter wing would have been stationed at the Academy anyway. The pilots are probably all dead. We’d be dust long before help arrived, either by the fighters or the orbital defense guns ready to shoot down anything without landing clearance. We’re out of options.

My stomach sinks. I hesitate, gulp for air to calm my racing heart, but there’s no time.

Say it.

“I think we have to jump for the colonies.”

A beat of silence.

“Do it,” Dr. Eyeliner says, precise and calm.

“You’re cracked!” Genius shouts over the increasingly worrying noise from the engines. “What about the no-return rule? If we leave—”

“What choice do we have?” Rion shoots back. “If we’d made it through our time at the Academy, we wouldn’t have been able to go back anyway. That was always the deal. I want to live. So we have to jump.”

I don’t bother adding to the commentary. The HUD is solid red, and between its screeching and the static over the speakers, my head is crowded and panicked. I’m definitely going to get us killed. I can’t do this, I’m terrible, I’ve never even flown a real ship before, this is impossible. My hands slip on the controls, nervous sweat and trembling muscles making the job so much harder. One fumble, one wrong maneuver, and those fighters will have us.

I take one last look at the sun rising over Earth’s jewel-tone arc, then swing the shuttle around and throw us into the black, out of the moon’s gravity shadow. The bullets follow, slamming against hull instead of shield now.

“Does this thing even have an A-drive?” I think to ask at the last second.

But it must, because Genius Girl pulls up the nav chart and picks an illuminated destination at random. The whining from the engines ramps up, increasing in pitch and sending a horrific shudder through the pedals under my feet. Oh god, we’re actually doing it, actually leaving Earth space, never coming back, never seeing our families again, and I knew it was coming, I wanted it, but not like this, not—

Stomach dropping, rib cage compressed, light bending in incomprehensible headache-inducing ways. Hold her steady, hit the mark, one last sudden acceleration . . . then the space in front of us scrunches. A tiny hole in the universe appears, just for us.

We’re gone.



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