Table of Contents
Friends or Foes?
DANE HAD BEEN BY FAR THE MOST OUTSPOKEN CRITIC of the Alliance all term. Less than half an hour ago, Aerin, herself, had accused him of failing to value the freedom he had here.
She slowed her steps, then pressed her head against the rough bark of a tree at the garden’s edge. That first day of classes she had been a pawn, afraid of everything, and based on one conversation, she had made a snap judgment about a young man she really knew nothing about. Hadn’t that also been part of today’s discussion? Dane telling her she knew nothing about him. Yes, just before he threatened her.
And tried to save her life.
Even now she could feel the intensity of Dane’s grip. If she had fallen, that grip would have stopped her. It had been that tight, that fierce. It had not been warm, or polite, or halfhearted in any way. It had squeezed her knuckles together in almost bone-cracking pain, and it would have held her up.
Maybe he had not meant to threaten her.
Or maybe he had.
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Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009
Copyright © Anne Osterlund, 2009
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Academy 7 / Anne Osterlund.
Summary: Aerin Renning and Dane Madousin struggle as incoming students at
the most exclusive academy in the Universe, both hiding secrets that are too painful to reveal,
not realizing that those very secrets link them together.
eISBN : 978-1-101-16276-7
[1. Science fiction. 2. Emotional problems--Fiction. 3. Fathers--Fiction. 4. Schools--Fiction.] I. Title.
II. Title: Academy seven. PZ7.O8454Ac 2009 [Fic]--dc22 2008041323
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
who defines the word
And for Andy, Filipp, and Marcus,
and all the other young men who push buttons and
boundaries and have the potential to change the universe
Thank you to my parents for letting me invade their basement to write; to my best friend, Maria, whose artistic talent is responsible for my web design, postcards, etc; to Elaine, Jan, Orice, Shirley, and Maria for reading drafts and providing feedback; to Dawn, who is responsible for the technical side of my Web site and is very patient with my lack of technological expertise; to the amazing people at Penguin who have been so supportive despite my dearth of published credentials, and to Angelle who took a huge chance on a princess who should not be a princess and a writer who has never been very good at staying inside the box. Neither
would exist without all of these tremendous people. And thank you to all the students, friends, librarians, teachers, co-workers, parents, and bookstore workers who have been so supportive on this crazy learning curve.
AERIN TRIED TO IGNORE THE BLOODSTAIN ON THE control panel of the
. Her father’s ship. And his blood. She thrust the image away, cramming it into the small chest at the back of her mind, then slamming shut the lid.
The aged ship rattled as though its exterior had hit turbulence, but the cockpit window showed only the clear black emptiness of space sprinkled with distant stars. Aerin checked the fuel. The dial remained in the same slot it had been in when she had taken off hours before. As did the arrow on the pressure monitor.
The rattle grew more intense, every piece of the former trade ship seeming to move. Metal sheeting wobbled back and forth on rounded screws. Exposed wires trembled from open patches in the wall. Cords swung from the ceiling.
The message was clear. She was not going to make it. Not to the next planet. Not even to the next space station. If only the ship’s computer would tell her what was wrong. Then she might be able to fix it. But though the autopilot functioned well enough to complete takeoff and follow a course, the screen remained a sullen blank.
The hasty repairs she had completed in her final moments on Vizhan had been enough to get the rickety ship off the ground, through the atmosphere, and into space. They were not going to be enough to save her life. Not without help.
Mouthing a silent plea, she switched on the radio. A green light glowed.
she whispered in her mind, then turned the volume dial with shaking fingers. A soft hum grew louder. Working! At least it sounded like it was working.
Aerin typed in the code for the distress signal.
Beep, beep, beep, beeeep, beeeep, beeeep, beep, beep, beep
—the code entered the machine and began repeating the same message over and over.
She tucked her bare feet beneath her and slumped back in her chair. Nothing she could do now. Just keep the ship aimed for the coordinates marked in the logbook as those of the nearest space station and hope someone came out of the vast void.
Her eyelids grew heavy with the weight of exhaustion. Perhaps it would be better just to crawl into one of the ship berths, her father’s since her own cot would now be too small for even the skinny limbs of her seventeen-year-old body.
Maybe she should just go to sleep. Let herself drift, thankful she would die free, here in her father’s ship, as he had. Free from the hunger and violence of Vizhan. From the terror.
Fear is not the enemy. Love is—
she recited the mantra that had kept her alive these past six years. Neither her conscience nor the ship’s vibrating hull would let her rest. She would sit here, she knew, staring out the window, adjusting knobs and dials, fighting this cranky piece of machinery as long as she could.
Until help arrived or all breath left her body.
Time seemed not to move at all. Starlight failed to mark the passage of the hours, and the clock in the corner remained dark. She unscrewed the timepiece, then checked the tiny bulbs. The filaments were black. Broken. No surprise there. Far stronger objects had come apart during the crash.
Aerin fell back in her seat, once again staring into the distance. Waiting. For life. Or death. Her eyes on the window.
It was the radio, though, that finally brought hope. A crackling, then a faint voice through the static. Words fading in and out. Unrecognizable. Syllables lost in a netherworld without context.
She bent forward, snatching the mouthpiece. It came away in her hand, the cord severed. She hurled it and watched it bang off a wall, hit the floor, and skid fifteen feet to crash at the rear of the cabin.
The voice on the radio came again, yanking her back from frustration. The words grew stronger, clearer. “This is the
, answering your distress call. Do you read?” The same message repeated over and over several times. She looked down at the radio, knowing there must be a way to respond in code.
But once again she fell victim to her own ignorance.
Still the voice did not give up. Instead, the message changed. “This is the
, tracking a distress call at coordinates 09-74-6002. No verbal response received. Changing course to intercept call.”
The voice faded and Aerin whispered the final sentence aloud, clutching at the words
Would the ship come then? To help? She waited, counting the seconds, aching for a sense of control.
emerged, hundreds of feet of sleek blackness from nose to tail, its dark hull blending so thoroughly into space that it first made its presence known by blocking the starlight from her view. The vessel tilted toward her, pancake-flat edges outlining a pointed nose and wings that swept back from the sides like slick feathers on a fletched arrow. Then the ship rolled up, revealing a straight, narrow side.
Aerin’s inner censor splintered the nerve endings in her brain. What had she done? Whom had she invited into her world? Her heart rattled at the same pace as the panels on the wall. She was caught, immobile, trapped in the spectrum of fear.
DANE MADOUSIN SWEPT A RAPID ARC THROUGH THE atmosphere, testing the speed of his new aircraft. The two-man ship cut a silent swath through the azure sky. “Sharp,” Dane murmured to the machine, then flipped its light hull upside down.
His head dropped back, his gaze spotting the planet’s surface. Chivalry’s vast foliage stretched beneath him: fir and hemlock, maple and aspen, greenery tinged with reds and browns, split now and then by a ribbon of blue or, more often, a dry creek bed.
Dane thought, wishing he had been assigned to this sector earlier.
He was sick of the artificial surface of the base and the tall skyscrapers of the planet’s only city. Here was where the action was, where the blasting hot summer winds met with dry tinder and plenty of fuel. Prime conditions for a fire.
“I think we got something!” a boy’s voice shrieked over the radio.
Dane turned down the volume. “Well, where is it?” he heard the fire chief say.
“Southeast quadrant,” the boy said. “Looks like coordinates fifty-four by sixty-one.”
Dane cocked his head, not bothering to check the map pinned to the visor. He knew the place was in his sector. “Let’s go,
,” he said, flipping the aircraft right side up and punching in the coordinates.
“You got that, Madousin?” the chief’s voice came again over the radio.
Dane picked up his mouthpiece. “Yeah, in motion,” he said.
Two summers flying old beaters with the company and nothing more exciting than a brushfire in City Park. Then this morning he had cashed in his savings for an interplanetary plane, and now, on the same day, had the chance for some action.
Not that the two were related. Dane knew the only reason he had been assigned to this sector was that the big blaze in the northwest required all the experienced fighters. Flyers under seventeen were usually kept in ad hoc, and he had another two weeks before crossing that milestone.