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Lindsay Cummings

He was still buckled into his chair. The reason everything looked white when he’d awoken was now obvious. Through the viewport of the Marauder, as far as he could see, was an endless expanse of snow, filling the entire front window as it stretched into the distance.

Everything came flooding back to him at once.

The ship shutting down, leaving the nebula behind. The frantic jump to hyperspace. The jarring screech of metal hitting the planet’s frozen surface.

They had survived the crash, but he wasn’t sure how long they’d last now. Solera was an unforgiving planet, and with Nor’s soldiers having swept across the galaxy... He wasn’t sure if anywhere was safe.

“Any idea where we are?” Dex asked, blinking stars from his eyes. His head throbbed angrily.

Andi stared out the viewport. “Not a clue.”

Dex grimaced. Nothing but frozen terrain out there, as far as he could tell. The ship rocked in the howling winds, and giant shards of ice jutted up from the white plain, towering hundreds of feet in the air. One of them, half a click away, was broken in two, a great gouge in the ice revealing where the Marauder had crashed into it before sliding to a stop here.

He unbuckled himself and slowly rose to his feet. “Memory, how bad is the damage?”

“Catastrophic,” Andi answered from the dash, which was flashing erratically with glitching blueprints and radar screens.

Memory’s absence echoed Andi’s point.

Across from them, Lon groaned in his seat, straps still secure across his chest. “I’m fine, guys. Thank you for your concern.”

“We’re a little busy, Sentinel,” Dex said, just as the ship groaned a final time and silence rushed through the bridge.

The lights on the console blinked out entirely. The only noise came from their hitched breaths and the freezing winds outside.

And Havoc, screeching wildly as it ran circles around the bridge, horns protruding from its fur. Apparently the creature had enjoyed the ride. Lon scooped him up, and the beast instantly fell as silent as the ship.

Well, hell, Dex thought as he looked around. This wasn’t good.

“Did the ship just...?” Andi started.

“Completely shut down, leaving us to the mercy of the elements? Yes, yes it did,” Dex said. “Godstars, I hate Solera. I managed to deploy the backup shields so our landing wouldn’t damage the ship too badly, but I guess it didn’t help much.”

That explained why the air smelled like burned metal. He didn’t want to imagine what the exterior of the ship looked like. Varillium was supposedly impenetrable, but how many times could they crash-land the ship and have it remain so?

“Thank you,” Andi said suddenly.

Dex stared at her in shock, his eyes widening. “Did you just...thank me?”

Maybe he was dead after all.

“Don’t get too cocky.”

Still dazed, he said, “I should crash the ship more often.”

Andi glared at him. “Don’t push your luck, Dextro.”

He laughed, then winced at the ache in his head.

Lon gasped from across the bridge. They turned to see him glued to the small window on the starboard side of the ship.

“What’s wrong?” Andi asked.

The window fogged up as Lon spoke. “It’s so beautiful,” he said in a daze, making Dex wonder if he was okay. “I’ve never seen snow before.”

It took a moment for his statement to register. “Never?” Dex asked, stunned.

“Never,” Lon confirmed, wiping at the clouded window. “It doesn’t snow back on Adhira, and until we went to Arcardius, I’d never once left home. My job was to protect Adhira, not leave it. All the Sentinels made vows to my aunt Alara, to protect the Mountain of Rhymore.”

“A soldier’s vow,” Andi aknowledged with a curt nod. “Something I broke long ago.”

“Looks like we’re all deserters,” Dex said, thinking of how he’d lost his Guardian status years before, too. General Cortas had promised to reinstate him after he and Andi had retrieved Valen from Lunamere, but the general’s manipulations and untimely death had prevented him from fulfilling his end of the bargain to Dex.

Lon looked down at his boots. “How far we’ve fallen.”

“You didn’t break your vow to Alara,” Andi told him. “You served her and Adhira faithfully, until her death. Now you can serve whomever you wish.”

Dex nodded in agreement. He’d been just a few months old when he left Tenebris for the first time. Although he didn’t remember the journey, he knew it must’ve been the first time he’d bonded with the stars. Ever since, he’d longed to be among them, traveling to the deepest corners of the galaxy. That bond was what had initially connected him to Andi. They both saw an opportunity out there, in the spaces between the stars—a place where they could live out the wildest parts of their dreams.

“We need a plan,” Andi said, drawing everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand. She grabbed the portable holoscreen off the console, which fortunately hadn’t been damaged in the crash. Dex joined Andi as she pulled up a miniature rotating Solera, wrapped by its rings. She zoomed in on a spot in the middle of a jagged ice field. “This is where we landed—the closest city isn’t for a thousand clicks. We’ll need a ship, or a transport of some kind, to make it there alive in this weather.”

Solera was an ice giant in the Tavina System. It was heavily populated, but every resident lived within one of Solera’s seven domed cities, as the elements were too harsh to bear year-round. As a result, most of the planet’s surface was uninhabited and devoid of civilization, which meant they were unlikely to find help all the way out here.

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