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By Kass Morgan
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Ender’s Game meets The 100 at an interstellar military boarding school in a romantic new series from New York Timesbestselling author Kass Morgan!
Reeling from a devastating attack by a mysterious enemy, the Quatra Fleet Academy is opening its doors to a new class of cadets from every planet in the solar system.
Hotshot pilot Vesper dreams of becoming a captain, but when she loses her spot to a wisecracking boy from the wrong side of the asteroid belt, she begins to question everything she thought she knew. Trapped on the toxic planet Deva, Cormak will take any chance he can to join the Academy–even if he has to steal someone’s identity to get there. Arran was always an outcast on icy Chetire and is looking for a place to belong. He just never thought it would be in the arms of the hottest guy in the galaxy. And Oreliahas infiltrated the fleet to complete a mission, one that threatens the security of everyone around her. But if anyone finds out who she really is, it’ll be her life on the line….
As worlds collide at the Academy, these four cadets will have to learn to work together if they want to survive. But how do you begin to trust the very people you’ve spent a lifetime learning to hate?
Light Years is the first book in a thrilling and romantic new sci-fi series from the bestselling author of The 100.
The airlock opened with a hiss, and Cormak shot off through the blisteringly hot, pink-tinged air. As his bike sped across the cracked red ground, he took shallow breaths until he was sure that his gas mask was working. Then he exhaled and jolted the roader into a higher gear, leaning forward to make his body as streamlined as possible. After spending all night delivering H2O to the luxury towers in Sector 2, it was a relief to be out in the open. The air in the towers might be quadruple filtered, but it always felt more suffocating than the poisonous atmosphere outside.
Water was strictly rationed on Deva, and most Settlers barely had enough for drinking, let alone showering more than once a week. But for a steep price, anyone willing to risk punishment could buy it on the black market from people like Cormak’s boss, Sol. Cormak had been making deliveries to the luxury towers for two years, yet the wealthy residents still eyed him warily, as if he were something that should’ve been caught in the filters. He’d learned the hard way not to let his gaze linger longingly on anything in their apartments—not on the fruit growing in the terrariums, not on the films playing on the monitors, and especially not on the books locked in transparent cases to protect them from the corrosive air. If there was one thing rich people trusted less than a dust-covered Devak, it was a dust-covered Devak who liked to read.
It was fairly clear today, and in the distance, the towers of Sector 23 loomed up through the faint pink haze. Cormak lived on the thirty-first floor of Tower B, one of the six hulking cement structures that comprised his scenic home. If he was lucky, he’d get a few hours of sleep before Sol called with the next set of deliveries.
Cormak switched on his helmet radio, banging his gloved hand against the side a few times until the static cleared.
“—officials said fourteen miners were killed in the blast. And now, the local weather report,” a cheery voice chirped. “The time is 27:40 in the morning. Air-traffic conditions are suboptimal due to a storm in the mesosphere. Today’s high will be 212 centis. The low will be 199 centis. According to current atmospheric readings, breathing unfiltered air will kill you in two minutes and forty seconds. Have a wonderful day!”
Cormak cursed as he hit a rut. The deliveries were wreaking havoc on his roader, but he didn’t have a choice. Making runs for Sol beat fourteen hours a day in one of the few remaining mines, even if it meant working for the biggest asshole on Deva.
He straightened his legs and lifted himself up for a better view. The path ahead looked clear save for the remains of abandoned mining equipment—some rusty drills, huge broken barrels, and whatever tanker pieces hadn’t been snatched up by scavengers after the mine dried up.
The drone of the radio was cut off by an alert. “Incoming call from… Cormak, you’d better accept this or you’re in for a world of pain.… Do you accept?” Cormak sighed and mumbled, “Accept.”
“What the hell were you thinking?” a familiar voice barked. “You don’t mouth off to clients.”
“What are you talking about, Sol?” Cormak asked wearily.
“The way you spoke to Rella Hewitt was unacceptable. To say nothing of stealing product that she paid for.”
Cormak stifled a groan. On his way into the Hewitts’ building, he’d passed an exhausted-looking girl mopping the floor—a fairly common sight on Deva, where kids often dropped out of school when their parents grew too sick to work. Cormak had offered her a tiny sip of H2O, just enough so she wouldn’t collapse before her shift ended. He’d forgotten that the nosy, bored Rella Hewitt often watched her building’s security feed, monitoring her neighbors even in the middle of the night. When he’d arrived at her door, she’d spent a good five minutes screeching at him before Cormak ended her tirade with a few well-chosen words.
“I gotta tell you, Sol. It’s tough to feel bad for rich people who care more about their exotic plants than Settler kids.” Unlike the Settlers, whose ancestors had arrived on Deva generations ago, most of the wealthy people were recent arrivals from Tri, the Quatra Federation’s capital planet.
“Oh, so now you’re gonna get all moral on me, asshole? Your job is to make deliveries and keep your mouth shut. You got it?”
“Got it,” Cormak muttered.
“You’re lucky I happen to have a kind, understanding nature. I’m going to give you one more chance. I have a pickup for you tonight at 29°22′ north, 99°48′ west…. Why don’t I hear you pulling over to write that down?”
“29°22′ north, 99°48′ west,” Cormak repeated dully. “Roger that, chief.” He never forgot coordinates. He had a thing for numbers. He could see them rearranging themselves in his head into all sorts of combinations that allowed him to solve complex equations in seconds. Not that it had done him much good. Because he couldn’t show his work on math exams, his teachers always assumed he was cheating. Their skepticism had made his brother, Rex, furious, but Cormak hadn’t really cared. Good grades only mattered for people like Rex—the rare students smart enough to catch the instructors’ attention and likable enough to justify the endless paperwork, favors, and bribes required to get into an off-planet university or training program. Though in the end, even Rex hadn’t made it off Deva.
“If you mess this up, you’re gonna be sorry. I mean it, Cormak.”
“I got it. I’ll be there tonight.” 29°22′ north, 99°48′ west was in Sector 22, where Sol had a contact who imported stolen nanotech from Tri. While water comprised the bulk of Sol’s trade, he also dabbled in weapons and had a passion for interstellar cryptocommerce. There was a rumor that he’d even hacked the Tridian Bank.
“Shit,” Cormak grunted as his roader hit another rut and flew into the air. He managed to keep the bike steady but landed hard enough that the vibrations coursed through his body. He glanced down to check that his pants were still tucked into his boots. Exposed skin allowed the poisonous air to seep into your pores, killing you over the course of a few hours.
Deva was naturally toxic to humans. The planet was blanketed with a thick cloud of gas—a combination of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and just enough oxygen to be filtered and piped into vacuum-sealed buildings. It also happened to be rich in terranium, the metal that was once used to build the vast majority of the buildings on Tri.
A hundred years ago, mine owners and metal exporters from Tri had come to Deva eager to stake their claim. They had built enormous bubbles around their comfortable homes to protect themselves from the toxic atmosphere and traveled back and forth to work in customized zipcrafts with backup oxygen-filtration systems. Then they’d built towers for the hundreds of thousands of workers they lured to Deva with promises of high wages and a new start. The towers were close enough to the mines that the workers could walk there, trudging through the toxic pink fog in their company-issued gas masks. The masks, of course, didn’t have backup systems.
Then, about twenty years ago, developers discovered an even stronger metal, fyron, on Chetire and the terranium market bottomed out. The majority of the mines shut down, but of course, the time the miners had already spent underground was more than enough to corrode their organs. Cormak’s father had died at the ripe old age of thirty-nine with more tumors in his lungs than coins in his pocket.
Up ahead, something shimmered near the horizon. A pol in a zipcraft. Cormak cursed and veered sharply off the road and into the bumpy, trench-filled wasteland. He hadn’t been doing anything illegal—nothing that could’ve been spotted from the air, at least—but the pols stopped anyone they felt like messing with. If they pulled him over and found the stolen water, he’d be screwed. Most people who got arrested on Deva didn’t get citations, and they didn’t get trials. They were simply never heard from again.
Cormak sped up and angled the bike on the most direct route to the canyon, a series of channels that the miners had created long ago. It was too narrow for the zipcraft to follow and too dark to allow the facial-recognition mechanism to identity Cormak from afar.
Over the roar of his engine came the distinctive buzz of the pol’s zipcraft. Cormak forced himself to steady his breathing. The mask could filter only a certain amount of air at a time.
“Halt and dismount from your vehicle,” a loud voice droned from above. “You have entered a restricted area and are required to show identification.”
Restricted area my ass. The canyon hadn’t been “restricted” for the past two decades. It was just a bullshit excuse the pols used when they felt like searching someone. Cormak leaned over even lower, urging his roader to speed up. Red dust churned up on either side of him, and every time he went over a rock or a dip in the road, the bike flew into the air.
The entrance to the canyon loomed up ahead, a narrow gash in the red-dirt hill. There was no way the zipcraft would fit through it. If Cormak could make it there in time, the pol would have to give up the chase.
“Halt and dismount from your vehicle,” the voice commanded. “This is your final warning.”
The canyon was a hundred mitons away. Now ninety. Cormak sped up even more. Seventy. He glanced over his shoulder and cursed. Why wasn’t the zipcraft turning around?
The canyon entrance grew larger. Now he was forty mitons away. Thirty. The canyon was only about seven mitons across, barely wide enough for two roaders to drive side by side, let alone a zipcraft. The pol was going to pull up soon. He had to.
A sudden rush of hot air nearly knocked Cormak off his bike. The zipcraft had dropped closer to the ground and was now driving alongside him. “Pull over,” the pol shouted.
In response, Cormak crouched even lower and slammed the accelerator as far as it would go. He aimed for the canyon entrance and held his breath, praying that the pol wouldn’t try to speed ahead and block him, and end up killing them both.
He plunged into shadow as the canyon walls soared up on either side of him, then glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the zipcraft veer sharply to the left. A few seconds later, he heard the crunch of metal followed by a thud.
Cormak braked so hard that the roader spun out, slamming against the wall of the canyon. For a moment, he stayed there, slumped over and panting as dull pain throbbed through his ribs. But as he watched the pol’s shadow emerge from the battered zipcraft, Cormak let out a long breath. There was no chance of that guy catching up with him now. He straightened up and revved the engine, smiling as it drowned out the echoes of the pol’s curses.
It was early afternoon by the time Cormak returned to Tower B, which meant he’d only have time to sleep for an hour before heading out again. The second the airlock hissed shut behind him, he yanked off his helmet, sending beads of sweat everywhere. He locked up his roader and started trudging up the thirty-one flights of stairs without bothering to check whether the elevator had finally been repaired.
Cormak managed to make it into his apartment without running into any of his neighbors, thank Antares. Too much time had passed since Rex’s death for them to offer more condolences, but Cormak could tell they didn’t feel comfortable making normal small talk either. You’d think in a place like Sector 23, where grief circulated with the endlessly refiltered air, people would know how to deal with loss. He couldn’t think of a single family that hadn’t been touched by tragedy.
As usual, the tiny living room managed to look bare and messy all at once. Nutrition-packet wrappers were strewn across the floor and the threadbare couch, and dirty clothes were draped over the chairs. When Rex was alive, the apartment had been shabby but spotless. Even though he was only three years older than Cormak, Rex had often seemed more like a parent than a brother. After their father died, Rex had been the one to haggle over the rent, brave the finicky gas stove to cook an occasional hot meal, and encourage Cormak to complete his homework long after his teachers stopped caring about it.
Cormak closed his eyes and allowed the familiar cloud of pain to envelop him. He hadn’t even known that Rex was working in the Hobart Barrens mine until he’d been notified about the accident. His brother had had a safe job as a janitor at the shuttleport and was studying for pilot school entrance exams. Why would he have given all that up for a short-term gig in the most treacherous region on Deva? Only the most desperate people went to work in the Hobart Barrens, an enormous crater where earthquakes caused mines to collapse and boiling-hot steam shot up from cracks in the ground.
For the first few days after Rex disappeared, Cormak hadn’t worried. Rex often took on extra shifts, and it wasn’t unusual for the two of them to go days without running into each other at home. After the fourth day, though, Cormak began to grow anxious. And on the seventh day, he got the news that tore his heart into a thousand jagged pieces. Rex was dead. Cormak would never again hear his goofy, echoing laugh—the only noise loud enough to drown out the incessant whine of the air-filtration system. He’d never roll his eyes while Rex did one of his terrible impressions that all sounded exactly the same. He’d never again feel the comforting weight of Rex’s large hand on his shoulder as he said, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Words that had always filled Cormak’s chest with warmth. Words that had turned out to be a lie.
Cormak pressed his hand against the wall and forced himself to breathe through the pain until it subsided. He needed to catch a few hours of sleep before his next run. As he took a few weary steps forward, his stomach rumbled angrily. Work tonight was going to be brutal if he didn’t eat something first, but the kitchen was completely bare. To his immense frustration, he’d had to buy a replacement gear for his roader yesterday—Cormak usually scavenged for parts, but after days of fruitless searching, he’d ended up shelling out for the gear—and now there was no money left for food. He needed something to sell, and over the past few months he’d already pawned every valuable thing he’d ever owned: the watch he’d inherited from his father; his grandfather’s vintage roader; the one piece of jewelry his mother, who’d died shortly after Cormak’s birth, had ever owned. There was only one room he hadn’t pillaged.
Cormak stared at the door he hadn’t opened since Rex died. The thought of rooting through his brother’s things made his heart cramp, but Rex would be furious if he knew Cormak was going hungry to avoid selling Rex’s belongings.
He forced himself to walk toward the door, then slipped into the second minuscule bedroom. The air felt as heavy and still as that of a tomb, and Cormak found himself holding his breath.
Everything was in perfect order except for a pair of boots that lay on the floor a few centimitons apart near the door. A new wave of pain crashed through him as he stepped gingerly over the boots, careful not to brush against them. Something about their arrangement felt vital, active, as if the person who’d kicked them off would be back any minute.
The bed was made, of course. Rex had tucked the sheets neatly under the mattress the last time he’d gotten up. Had there been a small part of him that had known he was heading off to die, and had taken extra care to leave everything tidy?
Cormak walked to the dresser and let his fingers hover over the top-drawer handle before pulling it open. There was his brother’s collection of model fightercrafts, which he’d always let Cormak play with. A stack of old T-shirts. He ran his finger along the top one and shivered.
He shut the top drawer gently and opened the second drawer. It was empty, as was the bottom drawer. Cormak felt a strange mixture of frustration and relief as he looked around the room, and he was just about to leave when something on Rex’s pillow caught his eye. He took a few steps forward and realized it was two separate items—an ID card and a battered portable link.
Cormak picked up the ID first, wincing slightly at the sight of his brother’s smiling face. Why had his brother left this behind? He set it back down on the pillow and picked up the link. Rex had been so proud when he bought the used gadget; there had been a point when you never saw him without the link clipped to his belt. But reception on Deva was so bad, he eventually stopped carrying it around.
To Cormak’s surprise, the message light was flashing.
He pressed the screen and it blinked wearily to life. Some of the messages were junk—discounts for shuttle trips Rex had never been able to afford and ads for “exciting career opportunities” at off-planet companies that hadn’t hired anyone from Deva in fifty years. There were a few messages from old friends and acquaintances who must not have heard about Rex’s death, and a few who had heard and had written anyway as a way to say good-bye.
Cormak was about to close the link when he saw something that made his whole body go rigid. It was an unread message with the subject line To Cormak. Hands shaking, Cormak managed to open the message and began to read.
I’m sorry I ran off without telling you, but I didn’t want you to worry. This stint in the Barrens is only ten days, and you won’t believe how much they’re paying us. If everything goes according to plan, you’ll never read this note. I’ll be back before you start rooting around my room. But I figured I should leave something behind just in case.
You’re probably wondering why I signed up for this job. Well, there’s something else I haven’t told you yet. I was accepted to the Quatra Fleet Academy. Crazy, right? I didn’t tell you I was applying because it was such a long shot. And then when I got in, I didn’t want you to worry about being left behind. That’s why I’m here. I’m making enough money for you to get off Deva as well. You can go to university on Tri or pilot training school on Chetire—anything. I know you’ve never believed me, but you’re a freaking genius, C-man. You’re way smarter than I am, and you can do whatever the hell you want. This way, we’ll both get off this godforsaken planet. We’re not going to stay here and rot away like Dad.
This job isn’t as dangerous as everyone says, and I really doubt anything will go wrong. But if you’re reading this, I guess something did….
For the love of Antares, I hope you’re not reading this.
If I don’t make it home, here’s something you can do for me: I want you to take my spot at the Academy. I left my ID on my pillow. You’re smarter than all those Tridians put together, and I can’t wait to see a Devak put them in their place. Because I’ll be watching you, C-man, even if we don’t know from where.
Okay, I’ve got to stop because this is making me pretty emotional, and I don’t want you to come home and find me all worked up. You’re never going to read this. I know you’re not. I’ll be home in a few days. But just in case—take care of yourself, Cormak. I love you.
The world disappeared into a blaze of white-hot pain as Cormak fell to the floor. Rex had gone to the Barrens for him. He’d chosen to risk his life rather than leave Cormak on his own. Cormak tried to breathe, but it felt like his rib cage had collapsed, his heart impaled by jagged bone. “No,” he whispered as he hugged his knees to his chest. “Rex, no.”
He shut his eyes as he replayed the final hours he’d spent with Rex: their last dinner together, their last round of stair ball—a game they’d invented long ago—their laughter echoing as loudly as it had when they were kids. The memory had been a source of comfort over the past few terrible months, but now it felt tainted knowing that Rex had been carrying this secret with him the whole time.
If only he’d found the link sooner. If he’d gone through Rex’s things earlier, when he first disappeared, Cormak might’ve been able to do something. He could’ve hitched or stolen a ride to the Barrens and forced Rex to come home. He could’ve saved his brother’s life.
His hands still shaking, Cormak read the message again. This time, a prickle of pride emerged through the pain. He couldn’t quite believe it—Rex had been accepted to the Quatra Fleet Academy. It was the most elite school in the solar system, famous for producing legendary Quatra Fleet officers. Until recently, only Tridians had been allowed to attend. Cormak had heard something about the policy changing, but he hadn’t paid much attention. The idea of a Devak being admitted to the Academy was too outlandish to imagine. Yet Rex had done it.
Forget becoming a pilot; Rex could’ve been a goddamn officer.
But it would never happen now. Because that’s how shit worked on Deva. No matter how hard you tried or whatever good fortune you stumbled upon, something screwed you over. Frustration ran hot through Cormak’s veins. Rex, the kindest, smartest person he knew, had won the chance of a lifetime—but that life had been cut short. Cormak wrenched his arm back and hurled the link through the air. It struck the wall with a satisfying crack.
He let out a long breath, then inhaled again, relaxing slightly as oxygen finally reached his lungs. Slowly, he stood up and, with trembling hands, reached for the ID on the pillow. Cormak stared at his brother’s smiling face and thought about what Rex had said in his message. If I don’t make it home, here’s something you can do for me: I want you to take my spot at the Academy. That was crazy talk. Cormak couldn’t just take his brother’s spot. The location of the Academy was top secret; there was no way an imposter could just waltz in with a fake ID. If he was caught, he’d be put in federation prison or worse. And even if he somehow managed to make it inside, he’d be taking classes with the smartest kids in the solar system. It wouldn’t be long until someone noticed that Cormak was out of his league.
He ran his finger along the ID photo. Cormak knew that smile so well, it was hard to believe he’d never see it in real life again. It’s the smile that must’ve crossed Rex’s face as he’d written, You’re smarter than all those Tridians put together, and I can’t wait to see a Devak put them in their place.
It was so risky, it was practically a suicide mission. A thousand things could go wrong, and the idea of Cormak’s responsible, rule-following brother encouraging him to commit identity fraud was laughably absurd. Yet that somehow made it feel all the more urgent. Rex had wanted this opportunity for Cormak so badly, he was willing to send his little brother into danger.
This was Cormak’s one chance to get off Deva. If he stayed, it’d be just a matter of time before he ended up riddled with tumors or a pol’s bullets. For the first time in eight months, Cormak felt something other than anger, grief, or despair stirring in his stomach, something he never thought he’d feel again—hope. He couldn’t bring his brother back to life, but perhaps he could, in a way, make Rex’s dream come true. He was going to make Rex proud whatever the cost.
“Wait! Don’t eat that!”
Arran glanced up to see a girl with curly purple-streaked hair looking at him with alarm. He stared back, as startled by her sudden appearance as he was by the concern in her voice. Arran had arrived at the shuttleport almost two hours early and sat on one of the padded benches to wait. For security purposes, all commercial flights had been canceled that day. The only people allowed inside were Quatra Fleet cadets and their families, and the circular atrium had been nearly empty, silent except for the squeak of the sanitation bot cleaning the floors and the cheery voices from the monitors. The ads repeated so often that Arran could recite them all verbatim.
Blast off on the trip of a lifetime! The mountains of Urud are waiting for you. Just one parsec away!
It’s always sunny on Loos, the planet closest to the sun!
Every three or four minutes, the exotic travel images were replaced by a peaceful image of space with relaxing music accompanying the gentle twinkle of the stars. Then the music would turn shrill and urgent as a huge fightercraft appeared in the background, followed by another, then another. As the first one filled the screen, it released a hailstorm of exploding bombs. The Specters are coming. Will you let them in without a fight? The Quatra Fleet needs you!
Although it’d been two years since the last attack—the one that had targeted Arran’s planet, Chetire—everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the Specters arrived again. But this time, Arran wouldn’t be cowering at home. He’d be training to fight back.
Arran realized the purple-haired girl was still watching him, and he looked down at the roll his mother had tucked into his bag that morning. “Why shouldn’t I eat this?”
“Because you’re going to vomit the moment we hit escape velocity.”
“Oh, right,” Arran said, blushing as he carefully rewrapped the roll in the cloth napkin. It was the one with the blue flowers, his favorite. He wondered if his mother had done that on purpose, sending him off with a little piece of home.
“Don’t worry about it.” The girl smiled kindly. “I’ve never been on a shuttle either. I just did a bunch of research on interplanetary travel.”
Arran stood and ran his hands though his hair, a nervous tic he’d never been able to break. “That was a good idea,” he said, relieved that he wouldn’t be the only space-sick novice. He’d never even left F Territory—the remotest province on Chetire—let alone gone off planet. His family had always been miners, and when he’d received his acceptance notice from the Academy, he’d been days away from signing a ten-year contract with the mining company. Ten years of working twelve-hour days more than four hundred mitons below the frozen ground. He still couldn’t quite believe his luck. Ending up in the mines had been his greatest fear, but no matter how hard he’d tried, he couldn’t figure out an alternative. No one born on Chetire ever got off Chetire.
Praise for Light Years:
"Phenomenal...readers will be itching for more when they finish...A must-purchase for fans of the author and science fiction/romance."—SLJ
"The many space-combat scenarios are convincing enough to thrill ardent Trekkies. A fun, fast-paced read laced with a froth of space romance."—Kirkus Reviews
"This mash-up of Ender's Game (Tor Books 1985) and The Hunger Gameswill be popular with readers of similar action, sci-fi series. The cliffhanger of an ending will have readers clamoring for the next book in the series."—SLC
"A lighter version of Ender's Game, Light Years is a must read for young adult and sci-fi lovers alike...a heartwarming, fast paced read that's perfect for the upcoming holidays."—Teenreads.com
"In this character-driven sci-fi series starter, Morgan...offers smooth, easy prose, clever wit, and excellent character-building."—Publishers Weekly
"Readers familiar with Morgan's The 100 series will recognize Morgan's ability to pen new and futuristic worlds that are strikingly current and familiar...a dynamic teen drama."—BCCB
Praise for The 100 series:"It's easy to be drawn in by the Lord of the Flies-style tension that builds as the teens struggle to set up a new society on a battered Earth, and by the smoldering romances that hang in the balance."—Publishers Weekly
"Dark and riveting. A mash-up of The Lord of the Flies, Across the Universe, and The Hunger Games."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Sep 3, 2019
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers