A knife of rage sliced through her. “Those bastards just shot at my ship.”
“Test fire?” Lira asked, but then she cursed, and suddenly they were spiraling to dodge blasts as the sensors screamed warnings. “On second thought...”
Andi gritted her teeth. Too many shots.
“Cap, they’re turning up the heat.”
This time the voice was Gilly’s. In the background, Andi could hear the familiar tick, tick, tick of Gilly’s gun firing from down below, the BOOM of Breck’s right after, one shot after another at the oncoming ships. “They’re closing in, starboard side.”
“Faster, Lira,” Andi growled.
She pulled up the radar and zoomed in on the other two blinking red dots, ignoring the shaking in her hands. They were growing ever closer, and now the Marauder’s prox alarms were blaring. What in the blazes were they using to run their ships?
Tick, tick, tick.
Shots blasted, piercing whines that shook Andi down to her bones.
It was all she could hear, all she could feel, louder and louder with each blast that sent the Marauder careening off course. She switched to the ship’s rear-cam again.
The three ships were directly behind them now. Two sleek black triangles with massive guns on their hulls, the other crisp and purple with smoke stains from Breck’s magnetic ammo, birdlike in its wingspan, with enough space to swallow Andi’s ship twice over.
Her brain screamed stats about it—designed for speed rather than agility. She’d spent months studying the ship at the Academy, desperate to explore every inch of its well-designed insides. Even the best tech had its flaws, and if they weren’t also being chased by the two Explorers, they might’ve stood a chance against the Tracker. But truth be told, smaller ammunition wouldn’t be able to affect the reinforced siding. And with its dodging tech, they’d have one hell of a time hitting the beast with the Big Bang.
“Take them down!” Andi commanded. “Go faster, Lira.” She clenched the armrests, leaning forward as if her body could help her ship pick up speed.
“I’m trying,” Lira said. “We haven’t refueled in weeks, Andi. At this rate, we’ll burn out. We’ll have to lose them instead of outrun them.”
“But without the cloaking system, we’re flying loose as a...”
Lira stopped her with a sly grin. “I wasn’t talking about cloaking.”
She straightened the ship and gave the engines a final push. The ships behind them fell back as the darkness around them heightened, like something monstrous was blotting out the stars.
It was then that Memory, the Marauder’s mapping system, came on, a cool female voice that usually guided their path, a comfort in the void of space. But today, Memory’s words filled Andi with a cold, trembling dread.
Now approaching Gollanta.
“Starshine, Lir,” Andi said, the darkness approaching more quickly now. She remembered the last time they’d come through Gollanta—they almost became space junk that day. They’d tried to avoid the area ever since. “You can’t be serious.”
Lir raised a bare brow. “Have you no faith, Captain?”
It was death behind bars or death by the sweet black sky.
Andi loosed a breath and ran her fingers through the ends of her purple-and-white braid. It had been months since they’d made a good purse, and their stores were depleted. If they were going to escape, things would have to get a little dirty before the Marauders got away clean.
“Not at present,” Andi said.
“You always did know how to make a girl blush.” Lira grinned, her sharp canines flashing in the red lights of the prox alarm. “You should see the last ship I piloted.”
“Just do it...before I change my mind.” Andi tightened her harness, silenced the prox alarms and settled back as Lira navigated the Marauder toward the Gollanta Asteroid Belt. It was a massive expanse full of thousands of giant space rocks, tumbling endlessly, just waiting for a target to obliterate.
The Graveyard of the Galaxy.
The place where ships went to die.
The Marauder hurtled past an asteroid double its size, an ugly thing full of deep impact holes. Beside it, spinning slowly on its side, was a hunk of burned and blackened metal that looked like the hull of an old Rambler.
“Lir?” Andi asked. “What was it that happened to your last ship?”
Lira grimaced and popped another wad of Moon Chew. “We may have just passed it.”
“Godstars guide us,” Andi prayed. She glanced up. “Memory? Some accompaniment, please, as Lira tries not to fly us to our deaths.”
A moment later, music flooded the bridge. Strings and keys and the swelling feeling of peace, control and calm.
“I will never understand how you can listen to this stuff,” Lira muttered.
Andi closed her eyes as Lira gunned the engine and they slipped into the tumbling black abyss.
Chapter Three (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
THE GIRL WAS BORN TO DIE.
In darkness she stood with her palms pressed to the cold glass of her tower. She was alone, protected as all of the Yielded were, staring out at the Conduit below. Swirls of black and silver and blue. An endless, starlit sea.
Each morning, she found herself here before the sun rose, imagining what it would feel like to touch the abyss. To feel the freedom of a single day where she could make her own choices, choose her own steps, one delicate moment at a time.
Her palms slid from the glass.
It was a gift, this body. A way to change her world, and the others beyond.
As the girl stood there, she thought of her dreams. Nameless faces, uncertain futures, deaths she couldn’t stop, births she had predicted before the dawning of their times.
The Yielded were special.
The Yielded were loved.
Outside, the darkness shifted. The girl gasped and pressed her hands back to the glass, heart racing as she waited.
It began slowly. A flicker on the dark horizon, far beyond the swirling Conduit. A flame, fighting for life. Then it sprung forth, veins of crimson light stretching into the sky, spreading to yellow, orange, pink the color of laughing cheeks.