For Jonah Lincoln, an orphaned teen who's bounced between foster homes and spent time on the streets of Cleveland, the voyage is a chance to reinvent himself, to be strong and independent and brave the way he could never be on Earth. But his dreams go up in smoke when their ship crash-lands, killing half the passengers and leaving the rest stranded—not on Thetis, but on its cruel and unpeopled moon, Achilles.
Between its bloodthirsty alien life forms and its distance from their intended location, Achilles is far from an ideal resting place. The situation is already dire, but when all of the adults suddenly disappear, leaving the teenage passengers to fend for themselves, Jonah doubts they'll survive at all, much less reach Thetis. Especially when it appears Achilles isn't as uninhabited as they were led to believe.
About the Author
Greg is the former Los Angeles and Chicago Editor for BlackBook Magazine, and his work has appeared on/in many magazines and websites. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys skateboarding, boxing, tennis, following the Cleveland Browns and Cavaliers, collecting turtle skulls, and testing to see if people read everything closely.
He lives in Santa Monica with his two young daughters.
Kyle McCarley, a graduate of the University of Southern California, is a voice-over actor whose credits include audiobooks, video games, television pilots, radio and television commercials, podcasts, and many others. He has been heard in such games as Dragon Nest, Vindictus, and MapleStory, as well as the audiobooks Forgotten Realms: The Shadow Stone by Richard Baker and Nightingale by New York Times bestselling author David Farland.
Read an Excerpt
Jonah rocks his shoulders up and down, struggling to free his long arms from his sleeping container. The thing is like a cocoon, warm and moist and suffocating, unwilling to separate from the sixteen-year-old boy who, for the third straight night, has officially given up on sleep. His arms finally escape, and in frustration he plucks out his earplugs and rips away the tiny pillow strapped to his head, and he lets it all float away in the darkness.
He takes his time opening his eyes. Since the wormhole — the time jump — he's been dealing with vertigo, migraines, and nausea. The hallucinations, though, they started yesterday: the classroom floor slithered like snakes, and his plate at dinner separated into a dozen pieces that spun around and waved at him like little hands saying goodbye. Still, he considers himself lucky that this is all he's dealing with.
Over half of the ship has been afflicted by the wormhole. Some have it worse than others: a cook woke up yesterday and suddenly couldn't use her legs, a demic biologist lost his ability to speak, and a girl from Module Nine — a quiet Second Year cadet from Kansas City — couldn't stop scratching herself or shouting out the names of all the bones in the human body. The doctors have her restrained in the sick bay, next to a senior navigator who constantly bites at the air in front of his face. Insomnia, Jonah realizes, is nothing.
His eyes open and he stares at the half-circle of light glowing twenty feet below, outlining his sleeping level's only exit. Between him and the exit are four cadets sound asleep, one snoring loudly, all of them slightly rotating in the air like the hour hands on antique clocks. Five more cadets float above Jonah, a clique of seventeen- and eighteen-year-old guys who only just recently stopped talking and fell asleep.
Jonah blindly waves his arm to his left where his sheaf sticks, but he has drifted too far away. His fingers find the cord that tethers him to the inflatable module wall, and he slowly tugs himself along, yawning. The instant the paper-thin rectangle touches Jonah's skin, the sheaf releases itself from the wall and the screen comes to life. The device curls inward and expands, doubling its size to sixteen inches. The date and time float in front of his face in three-dimensional figures: 19 OCT 2221, 0108 GMT.
Jonah blinks, rubs his face, and looks again. It's only one o'clock. Six more hours until the lights come on. Six more hours until he's free to roam the Mayflower 2 and get something to eat. The only thing that keeps him from screaming out in frustration is the fact that after these six hours, it's only twenty-four more hours until they land on Thetis. It's practically over. It's almost here. After thirteen months aboard this ship, trapped with one hundred seventy-seven people who still somehow remain strangers to him, it's almost over.
He waves his hand in front of the sheaf, and it flashes to the home screen where week-old news from Earth — from before the wormhole — scrolls along the top and bottom: "Support for President Louise Cruz at All-Time High." "65% of Cubans Want to Secede from the United States. Back to 56 States?" "Rebel Forces Take Back London."
A sharp noise suddenly breaks Jonah away from his screen. He rolls up the sheaf and tucks it into his shirtsleeve, and he holds his breath. Behind him in the darkness, the inflatable wall flaps once, twice, and then repeatedly, sounding like a row of flags caught in a storm. And then below him, something metallic whines, the eerie noise echoing up and into Jonah's mouth. For over a year he's slept inside this module, barreling through outer space, and the walls have never made a sound. Ever. Until now.
He's hallucinating, Jonah tells himself. It's just the insomnia and the wormhole effects. The walls aren't really flapping. There isn't a leak. The module isn't going to rip apart. He's going to make it to Thetis safely in less than thirty hours. And then he'll sleep for days.
The flapping and other noises, just as suddenly as they started, stop. Jonah takes a quick breath. And then another and another. He counts to ten, twenty, thirty, and the noises never return. The hallucinations are getting worse, he thinks. He'll talk to Dr. Zarembo after breakfast. Perhaps she can help.
Jonah pulls back out his sheaf and unfurls it, catching a quick reflection of his dark brown face with deep half-circles under his eyes in the glowing screen. His thick black hair is uneven from his pillow, and he half-heartedly pulls at it with his giant right hand while his brown eyes study the rest of his image. Jonah's mouth is straight, his lips full. His nose, wide like a newborn's fist. He stares at the bones of his cheeks that point out like wings ready to take flight. He sighs, wondering if his dad ever looked this strange and awkward at sixteen.
His image disappears when the sheaf begins to project a hologram inches away from his nose: A hazy blue and green planet slowly rotates on its axis. A radiating yellow dot hovers above the southern coastline of the planet's one continent: the Athens colony. Rising slowly from behind the planet, the word THETIS appears in all capitals, and the name circles around the globe twice before fading away.
He watches the planet that's twice the size of Earth and a smile cracks across his lips. This is going to be good, he thinks. No, this is going to be great. With only one hundred thirty-four humans living on Thetis, he might actually get his own room. Hell, maybe he'll even get his own yurt with a view. He needs some space. It's amazing that he actually misses something from his time living on the streets and under the bridges of Cleveland: that ability to be alone.
He touches the northern pole of Thetis and the planet immediately stops rotating. Jonah then double taps the same spot and a tiny red dot appears, just where he left it, and a second later, a long document fans out horizontally in front of the screen. He runs his exhausted eyes over his classified state file, a document he's not supposed to have.
He scrolls to the section of the document detailing his time in five different foster homes. Mr. Nora, the father of his third foster family, called him, "An all-around awful kid to be around." He said, "Jonah was filthy, too quiet, and a goddamn thief. I once found him stealing food right from my daughter's plate. I made sure he never did that again." Jonah unconsciously rubs his chin. That's where the man's fist had landed. He was only eight years old when a tiny piece of bread had fallen off fourteen-year-old Amberline's plate, onto the floor. She didn't even notice it. Jonah, having finished his minuscule portion of scrambled powdered eggs, still hungry, drowning in thoughts on how to survive the day's endless supply of bullies, waited several minutes before reaching down to put the crumb in his mouth. Amberline shrieked. Mr. Nora swung.
"He seemed smart, and we liked having him. For a while, that is," Denise Pacsun, his fourth foster mother, said. "But then he stopped obeying me and my husband. He tried to run away several times. It caused quite a disruption in our strong family unit, and that's when we felt it was best he lived somewhere else." Images of the Pacsun twins flash before Jonah's eyes. His mind goes to the night the boys stripped Jonah's clothes off and held him down and placed scalding rocks on his back and legs, creating silvery scars that still cover his skin like a school of fish. He ran away the next morning, blood soaking his shirt as he stumbled through the neighborhood.
Finally, Jonah scrolls to the seventh paragraph of the document, inhaling deeply as he reads the two sentences that haunt his entire existence: "Austin and Flora Lincoln, both twenty-four, were killed in the Los Angeles earthquake of 2205. They are survived by their son, Jonah Lincoln, five months." He reads it twice, and when the tears form in the corners of his eyes, he drags an icon from the desktop to the center of the screen and nods. A photograph appears. A handsome, extremely tall black man smiles at the camera. He leans over a hospital bed where an exhausted woman holds her newborn baby to her chest. Jonah stares at the photo, at his dad, his mom, himself. He stares at the large window in the background full of sun, at the stack of pillows behind his mom's back. Tears blur his vision, and he pushes the photograph back off the screen.
The rest of the document is the ugly story of how Jonah escaped his final foster home at the age of fourteen after old Mrs. Hoyt died of a heart attack in her bathroom. How Jonah found her lying on her face and didn't report it to the police. How he survived on the streets of Cleveland for five months — where he slept, what he ate, what petty crimes he committed — before finally agreeing to enter the academy, after much coercing from his social workers. The first month at the school was brutal. Fights. Missed homework. No friends. Failed tests. But with time, he found his way.
"His grades and attitude have soared, relatively speaking," wrote the academy's counselor after Jonah's third month. "He spends a lot of time in the exercise room and in the swimming pool, becoming somewhat of an expert at the high dive. Jonah has yet to make many friends." He puffs out his chest as he thinks about the swimming, the training, his newfound love of history and art. And his chest only grows larger when he thinks back to that sweltering November evening two years ago, the night he was selected to join the crew of the Mayflower 2 and help re-establish the colony on Thetis. When news reached Earth that all those kids died in the avalanche on their field trip to the Polaris Mons, it consumed everyone for months, including Jonah. He never thought that tragedy, so far away, would lead to an opportunity. No one ever really chose him for something before; he was always forced one place or another. But suddenly the academy wanted him, and then Thetis wanted him. It was a strange and uncomfortable feeling, but he was thrilled to avoid what was happening in London and start over.
Eighty kids were chosen for the Mayflower 2: forty military cadets — like Jonah — and forty kids from the academic sector in Northern California. The demics, as the cadets call them.
Finally feeling tired, as if sleep is actually near, Jonah closes the document. He attempts to shut the sheaf down but accidentally opens another program. Suddenly a video pops up, a half-watched film from Thetis featuring the academy's brightest star, Armitage Blythe, a passenger from the first ship. The cadet is huge, with the head of a pumpkin and arms like tree trunks. In the video, Armitage pulls a large section of bark away from a twisted gray tree, revealing a nest of white, bat-like creatures that take flight in a misty cloud of ink. A caption runs along the top, but before Jonah can read it, a boy's voice comes from below.
"Turn that shit off, J."
Jonah closes his fist and the device shrinks in half and goes blank. He then wings his sheaf at the wall and it sticks audibly in the dark. It takes him a second to realize the voice belongs to Manny Ucedo, another First Year cadet like himself. The thirteen-year-old boy is the closest thing he has to a friend at the academy, which isn't saying much. Jonah doesn't know a lot about him, aside from the fact he has seven brothers and likes surfing, two things Jonah knows nothing about.
"Sorry," Jonah whispers. "Can't sleep."
Manny yawns. "Yeah? What's new?"
"I know. But I'm going to go try again right now, though. See you in the morning."
There's a soft crinkling of a wrapper.
"Well, if you're hungry, I have a crystal orange here I was saving," Manny says.
"No, I'm okay." As soon as Jonah whispers it, he immediately wishes he hadn't. Not many people offer things to Jonah, unless it's an older cadet proposing a fight or offering some type of criticism. "I'll just wait until breakfast. But thanks. It's just one o'clock, you know."
Another yawn from Manny. "Damn. Well, I have about five or so nappies and a couple of dozers if you want them. Either will knock you right out. Just ask Blaire over there."
"I don't do pills, actually, but thanks."
Jonah reels his arms back inside his sleeping container. He finds the temperature knob next to his hip and turns it a couple notches to the right. As his legs warm, he tries a doctor's recommended deep-breathing routine. In his nose, out his mouth, then reverses it. He concentrates, clears his mind, and after a few minutes, Jonah feels sleep beginning to coat the back of his skull. For the first time in days, he feels nearly at peace, ready to rest.
But then something leathery brushes Jonah's cheek. His eyes snap open, and a rush of liquid heat shoots throughout his body. He rips his arm out of his container, ready to snatch one of the Pacsun twins' hands to bend it backward over his wrist, but to his surprise it's just the module wall. He takes a deep breath and uses his neck to push away from the material. The ship must have altered its direction, Jonah thinks. They could be closer to Thetis than he thought.
The module walls start flapping again. Jonah freezes and waits for it to stop, but instead the metallic whine returns, too. Then, there's a pinging that mixes with the flapping and the whining. It's coming from outside. It's as if a wave of sand washes over the ship. It has to be another hallucination.
He doesn't respond.
The pinging gets louder and louder, and Jonah rams his fingers into his eyes, pushing them this way and that, and he starts to hum, hoping to distract his brain, but when he stops and his eyes and ears adjust, the pinging is still there. And then objects all over the room begin to rattle and buzz in their cabinets.
The foot of Jonah's sleeping container swings left and gently bounces off the wall, spinning him completely around.
"What the hell is going on?" someone moans from below.
Another boy coughs. "The ship is changing direction or something."
"Shut the hell up down there," a Fourth Year barks from the ceiling, "or I'll kick your asses."
Jonah's feet hit the wall again, spinning him. More boys feel it and wake up, groaning, complaining.
"Are we taking evasive maneuvers?" Manny asks. "Are we entering an asteroid belt, trying to get away?"
"There's no asteroid belt, asshole," the Fourth Year says. "Not in this part of the Silver Foot."
"It's been going on for a while," Jonah says so quietly that no one seems to hear him.
"What time is it?" a Second Year asks.
"Time for everybody in this fucking room to shut the hell up and go back to fucking sleep," snaps an eighteen-year-old. "Christ. Bunch of fucking babies."
The walls begin to flap violently, as if there were a hundred men outside, slapping and clawing, dying to get in.
"What is that?" Manny shouts.
Everyone spins in their containers, bouncing off each other and the walls. The ship is not only changing directions, but it's doing it too fast. Every cadet in the sleep level wakes up, and they shout, groan, and complain. A needling panic spreads under Jonah's skin. The noises are too much; Jonah bursts out of his sleeping container like he's exiting an escape hatch.
"Who the hell is that?" a boy shouts as a frantic Jonah swims upward in the darkness. He doesn't answer and rows himself along the ceiling. He floats past a boy who is surprisingly still asleep, and he slaps his fingers against the opposite wall, feeling for the window. He needs to see outside, what's causing all this noise. He needs to see the stars.
Without warning, bright white lights swamp the level, causing the boys to howl and cover their eyes. Jonah finds the window and presses the tiny square under the black glass, and it loses its tint. Jonah gasps at the sight: There, taking up his entire view, is a giant brown, green, and blue ball enveloped in a thin layer of white. They're entering its atmosphere.
"We're landing early!" Manny shouts.
A Third Year pulls himself past Jonah, slamming his palm under each of the other four windows, exposing everyone to the sight. This planet doesn't really look like the image of Thetis on his sheaf, but it is familiar.
"Everyone just shut up for a second!" the Third Year yells. "Something's ... Something's wrong!"
"We're coming in too fast!" a boy shouts.
The module walls stop flapping and start contracting and expanding around the windows, ballooning in and out like an exhausted lung. The noises outside grow even louder, and Jonah thinks he feels the truss, the network of metal bars that holds all nine of the giant cylindrical modules in a row, twist and bow. Outside, blue and purple flames appear and disappear like ghosts. The boys grow silent with fear. They know that at any moment the truss is going to open like a flower, and each of the modules will parachute to the ground.
A recording of a woman's voice bursts out of the ceiling's speakers: "Attention. Attention. This is an emergency. All persons must secure themselves into their launch seats immediately. This is not a drill. Prepare for an emergency landing."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Achilles The Deep Sky Saga — Book One"
Copyright © 2017 Greg Boose.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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