Read Cassiel Winters 1: Sky's End Online

Authors: Lesley Young

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Romance, #Young Adult, #Adventure

Cassiel Winters 1: Sky's End

BOOK: Cassiel Winters 1: Sky's End
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New York




Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.

This book is a work of fiction.  The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priority written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher.  The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

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Published in the United States of America by

Soul Mate Publishing

P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

ISBN-13: 978-1-61935-

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

To Cos, for who you are.



Thanks to all the agents and editors who rejected Sky’s End. You made me braver. Debby Gilbert (my editor at Soul Mate Publishing), thanks for taking a chance on an unpublished author’s first piece of work. Your guidance on the fundamentals elevated the novel. Cosmo Mariano (my husband), if you hadn’t been so surprised, “This is really good,” well, who knows? You always give me exactly what I need to remember to believe in myself. Kim Barton (BFF), your zest for life and love of books inspired me long before I knew I wanted to write a novel; plus, your encouragement over early drafts helped me to believe in Cassiel. Beth Hitchcock (SEG BFF), your keen eye, offered up generously at the last-minute, is the kind of gift a nervous, overwhelmed author couldn’t ever find words to adequately describe. Mom and Dad, thanks for your support. To all my friends and family: you make me so happy, and grateful, and loved—everything I need to express this side of me I didn’t know existed until Sky’s End.

Part One

Chapter 1

The déjà vu was pretty freaky, and that’s saying something, considering I’m regularly afflicted by a weird type of been-there-done-that premonition. I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants and pace my pod. I can get three full strides in before I have to turn around.

I used to think everyone experienced déjà vu just the same as me. The sense of familiarity slips in, and suddenly you think,
Hey, this has happened before!
Weird, right, but so what? Only, for me, a second version unfolds. I literally see double, one slide on top of another, out of time by minutes, sometimes days.

I was seven when my brother, Daz, figured out I was
. I remember my age because he had just celebrated his 18
year, days before, racing his velo in Quadrant Nine, which is totally illegal, since Quadrant Nine, with its threat of supernova and colossal dust whirlies, has a 960 percent greater likelihood of accidents than neighboring quadrants. Anyway, my ‘premonition’ ended up giving him a window of less than half an hour before Patrol showed up at the door.

I’m not sure why he believed my desperate display of urgent pleas and tears, but he left in a hurry, and never did get charged. Not long after that, the Academy recruited him. Now, he’s Lieutenant and top pilot for ESE (Earth Space Exploration), pronounced “easy,” emphasis on sarcasm. Daz is the reason why I’m here, actually, on ESE’s prime space station, 568,000 miles from Earth, sitting in Pod D-17, trying not to hyperventilate about my pending Academy hand-to-hand combat test in,
oh, let’s see

Breathe, Cassiel. Breathe.

I head into the privy and tighten my ponytail in front of the TriVirror
. I wish that I looked . . . harder. I used to practice facial expressions.
This is my get-over-yourself look. This is my don’t-mess-with-me look. This is my damn-right look
. None of them work. My eyebrows, my eyes, my mouth just move around in a different ways to amplify the same impression: innocence.
Forget it
. I stick my tongue out at myself and return to pacing in hopes of distracting myself from checking my com-tab.
What time is it now?

The night I had that extraordinary déjà vu, I was reading “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I read it a lot because Mom gave it to me and any connection to her makes me relax. A sense of familiarity washed over me and I remember thinking,
Oh super, here we go again,
and then a scrap of paper fluttered out of the book and onto the downcore. The handwriting was in plain sight.

Hide. I will find you. D.

I barely deciphered the words (handwriting’s obsolete) before the whole thing ended. I scrambled for the paper, but it was gone. I shook the book but nothing came out.

Hide? Hide from what?

Of course I wanted to explain it away, like someone had left the note in the book thousands of years ago. But the paper disappeared before my very eyes and hasn’t reappeared.

Was it
for me? Who was D? Daz?

The thing is, I’d been sick with worry for weeks over Daz. He wasn’t answering my Missives—very unusual for him—and when I made a formal request to ESE, they replied that Lt. David Alexander Zachary Winters was on a classified mission.

Talk about upsetting.

Even if Daz were going on the universes’ most top-secret mission, he would have found a way to say
. I’ve gone over this in my head a thousand times. I mean, we’re mega close. He practically raised me after our parents died.

So, yes, I admit, I believe the ‘D’ in the note was short for Daz! I believed it so much, I joined the Academy the very next day, determined to find out where my brother is, to help him, if he needs me.

Slow down. Stop. Good. Now stand very still, eyes closed. Think about nothing.
No, now, really try!

It doesn’t help at all.

Try sitting on the edge of your downcore.

I did.

Close your eyes.

They ache.

Well you didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Don’t think about that! Think about nothing.

Maybe keep pacing.

It’s true. The note said ‘hide’ not ‘join ESE.’ But I couldn’t wait around, or do nothing! I just couldn’t.

I exhale, and give in to the urge to check my com-tab.

Thirty-five minutes!

I still can’t believe I failed my first test. I’m the first cadet to ever do so. Yup, Cassiel Winters sets a brand-new record low at ESE. This time I
to prove I can fight using my hands.

My roommate, Jordanna Peterson, confirmed my worst fears earlier when she’d said, “Fail today, and you’ll get the boot!” She blew her long, light-brown bangs out of her eyes and gave me a look of utter disbelief before stalking out of the pod.

The Academy pairs up first-year cadets with seniors for guidance, but the approach isn’t working very well if you ask me. Cadets are just too busy—and competitive.

I glance over at Jordanna’s shelf, where a few sparse, neatly placed belongings give away nothing. Spry in limb and spirit, she’s one of the top women here and she knows it. I can’t understand the chip on her shoulder, probably because we don’t converse. Instead, she offers up the odd tidbit of station gossip (her one vice), or poses hostile rhetorical questions, like “You’re
working on that star chart lab?” or “What the fuck is this thing (usually a book) doing here?”

The thing is, I actually really like Jordanna. I admire her spirit. I wish it would rub off on me.

Oh, please, please, please let me pass the test!

I collapse back onto my downcore, and fixate on the light glow of the ceiling while trying to run through the test’s mission parameters, sent to my com-tab at zero six hundred hours. I and another cadet, Dimitry Bukin, are the only two real people participating in the live-augmented reality scenario. We have to successfully rescue one Sergeant Henderson (a replicam), who was captured and is being held on a heavily guarded outpost on Niian, one nasty and cold planet.

You wouldn’t believe how realistic Lightvision
is, right down to the sensation of wet earth being rammed up your nose when your head’s crushed into the ground by a monstrous Academy-invented alien called a ‘Gogol.’ Programmers developed the bulbous-eyed, slimy-faced replicams specifically for training scenarios like today’s. I think they represent how prejudiced humans are about alien species. Most aliens more closely resemble homo sapiens than, say, moldy crustaceans.

I try to swallow but my throat seems to be glued tight. I need some water. Why can’t they figure out how to maintain consistent humidity on this station?

Maybe I’ll go to Proxy, grab a restorative in the lounge section of the cafeteria before the test. There’s enough time.

Once I step out of my pod into the corridor, some of the pressure disappears. Funny how a bit of extra space makes all the difference. I shake out my arms and move down the gently curved hall that leads from the women’s quarters to the nearest turbolift. Since no one else is around, I work out the nervous energy in my body, stretching my limbs by taking short lunges, as I move forward.

I love that the ESE space station is close enough to Earth that you can see the gumball occasionally through the tall windows. I’m less fond of the narrow, epic corridors. More than 250 miles of labyrinth-like arched ceiling, beige and silver Nylar
paneling, and gray-grip flooring snake throughout the station. You can get lost if you don’t pay attention. Not many cadets or officers will help you if you forget your com-tab (a wayfinder) either. Trust me.

When I reach the turbolift, I rock side-to-side on the spot, waiting impatiently.

Come on, hurry up!

It can take a while for a turbolift to arrive, considering the size of the station, and especially if a PCP (Power Conservation Protocol) is in effect. Helium 3, which powers Earth and ESE, is copious in space, but obtained at great cost and inconsistency.

Flashback: A Gogol’s fist coming straight for my nose. Blood
Cassiel, you didn’t even try to move out of the way.

Oh, how I hate H2H class! My professor, Lt. Lazarus, is always shouting, “One chicken heart and you’re all dead!” He means me. I’m the chicken heart. He always glares my way when he shouts it.

It’s going to be okay, Cassiel. You’ve prepared as much as you can.

Think about why you’re here
For Daz.

The doors vanish, finally, and I step into the empty turbolift.

Actually, joining ESE has one upside. The Academy offers the best opportunity for me to pursue my interest in exo-anthropology, the study of alien species and cultures. My favorite class is led by Professor Xeno, ESE’s only alien professor. We get along quite well, probably because neither of us likes to talk much. He’s one of the last of his species, Anormata, and, at well over 1,000 years old, has probably heard it all. I spend a lot of my free time doing extra work for him in hopes of making up for my pathetic H2H ratings. Also, I find being around him very calming. I think it’s his graceful, slow movements. It was weeks before I realized he doesn’t turn his oversized head to look at you, but rather his whole body. I’m guessing that his neck, which is a little longer than a human’s, lacks the ability to rotate hence why his almost-white eyes sit very far apart.

The turbolift stops at Level H and two senior officers step in. They’re silent, stiff, and so broad-shouldered all three of us can’t fit side-by-side. I salute them and quickly step back.

If I score a high enough average, I could make the ESE Emissary Unit, which leads first encounter task forces and helps to negotiate treaties. Only, the Academy’s hard. Real hard. Harder than everything I had already heard, from Daz or read on the gossamer exchange.

When the turbolift doors vanish on Level K, I step out, remembering to address the officers as
. I quickly correct my direction and head to Proxy, the one place ESE affords everyone a little leniency.

I tense at the sight of three cadets heading my way.

. Third-years. You can tell by the number of lines that trim the collar of our standard white-and-light gray uniforms. Officers have sleeve stars on their uniforms, which are rich, deep blue, trimmed in gold. I don’t recognize these guys—not that I would, as there are hundreds of cadets on this station. But they’ll know me.

They stopped talking when I rounded the bend, and I know my cheeks are flushing fierce.

You would think, after three months on this cylindrical giant floating
, I would grow immune to the attention. I’m one of only 42 females trying to pass the Academy and get into ESE. There are even fewer female officers.

The Worldwide Space Organization has only just realized that it needs to recruit women in order to ensure thriving off-world families, and it’s marketing heavily to change the gender ratio. Apparently, life in space doesn’t hold much appeal for women. Gee, I can’t think why.

Because these cadets are seniors, I’ll have to stop and step aside to let them pass. According to unwritten protocol at the Academy, you don’t step back until the last second, in case the other cadet steps back (if he feels like it). I caught on pretty quickly—it’s like playing velo-chicken. Daz took me to a few underground contests in
The Intrepid
, his Intergalactic Formula A00 Championship-winning velo.

The tension mounts as the guys near. You’re supposed to make eye contact the whole time, to show them what you’re made of. I hate this part. Most of the time, the men’s stares end up being just plain lewd. My heart’s thudding quite loudly now, and thanks to my pent-up adrenaline, my chest’s quivery.

Of course, I have every intention of stepping aside, and just as I pause to do so, one of the cadets, a smiley face, steps behind his buddy, and I pass. Surprised, I recognize his courtesy with a proper glance, and he winks.

“Good luck?” His eyebrows are raised, and he’s scanning me up and down, walking backward.

Ah, my combat skin
. I kind of nod, manage a weak smile, and head on toward Proxy. ESE combat skins don’t leave much to the imagination. The black super-thin, lightweight, formfitting, long-sleeve jumpsuit’s designed to protect you from the elements on alien planets and absorb some of the force of impact. The operative word being
If you ask me, the suit just prolongs the number of hits you have to take (not to mention ogling if you’re a woman).

I stop in my tracks and clasp my head.
I can’t go into Proxy wearing this!

But . . . I really, really want a restorative!

Oh, who cares
? The men wear their skins in Proxy all the time.
Why shouldn’t I

The second the doors to Proxy vanish, I regret my bravado. Forget all of the sets of eyes giving me a once-over.

Lt. Damian King. Two o’clock. Downing a Taza Mud at one of the tall bar tables.

Should I turn around? Or pretend—

He’s seen you now. You have to go in.

I square my shoulders and stride quickly over to the bar, staring at no one in particular. As I near him, when I think the timing’s right, I glance over, real casual.

He nods at me, I nod back, and, somehow, I make it to the bar without breaking into a grin.

Cadets move to let me up close. That’s one perk of being female.

“One restorative, please.” I like the way my voice sounds. Steady.

What a morning so far!

I hope my butt looks okay

Oh, quit worrying
He’s not checking out your butt. Everyone else is, maybe.

“Make that two,” says a familiar voice behind me.


He shifts in beside me. Cadets move aside, heck, everyone moves aside for King. He’s kind of like royalty around here. Even Jordanna, who’s not prone to admiration, talks about King’s latest feat or promotion with a certain reverence.

I glance over at him and realize I
wearing a stupid grin.

“Hello, Cassiel.”

“Hi.” I push my hair behind my ear, remembering too late that it’s in a ponytail.
Smooth, Cassiel. Real smooth.

“All set?” He hasn’t taken his eyes off of me, and my ear burns under his scrutiny.

BOOK: Cassiel Winters 1: Sky's End
9.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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