Inherit the Stars: opening scene

Bombs have nicknames. Innocuous, happy nicknames. The thundering yellow cloud licking our flightwing’s windows has got to be a Baby Sunshine.

“M’lady?!” screams the pilot from the open cockpit. “M’lady are you—”

The flightwing bucks and Wren’s medibed wrenches from the hook I’ve only half fastened, and skids across the cargo bay. I slam into the wall a second before she does. The bed rams my stomach—pressure and pain and ripping corners and oh God I’m going to die.

And so will Wren, if we don’t reach the specialist.

“Go!” I yell. “Go, go, go.”

The flightwing banks, and I grab the rails so my sister doesn’t fly across the hold.

Wren’s makeshift bandage is red and there’s so much blood on her face I can’t tell if it’s dripping and my palms sweat fire and her bed wants to roll away.

“I’ve got you,” I say. “I’ve got you, I’ve got—”

Something booms, and I’d give anything to reach the window—but anything means letting go of Wren.

The wing rolls and we both pitch forward, bed wheels screeching murder. I scramble across the slick metal floor, flailing against the wall for something. Anything. My fingers brush one of the yellow safety straps, and I latch on. Wren keeps rolling but I have her. Won’t let go.

My arm’s going to split its socket.

The pilot swears, the wing swings near vertical, and Wren slams my stomach through my spine.

But her head’s close enough to see now, and her bandage is dripping. A lot.

She’s going to die before we get out of the city airspace, let alone off-planet to the moon station’s medic specialist.

“You’re all right.” I let go of the safety strap long enough to pat her cheek—the nonbroken bits. “Wren? Wren, look at me. You’re all right. I promise.”

She doesn’t respond. She hasn’t responded since the last bomb hit and she pulled me through the riot. She’d gone out to stand with her soldiers. Because that’s what a Base Commander does. Fights for her people.

Even if they’re the ones bombing her.

Another booming ricochet, but this time the flightwing is level and doesn’t rock.

The window is three steps away—high, round, and trimmed white. I glance at Wren, but her eyelashes don’t move. I rub the sweat from one palm, switch my hands on the rail, and repeat with the other. Then I inch us toward the window.

One step, two, and—

The city stretches below, blue and gold, sleek skytowers and open streets. Explosive yellow answered by streaked neon pink.

Pink? The Kiss Pop bombs? But the city gangs don’t have those. When they raided the armory, the gangs only got the Sunshines and some sparkguns. Wren double-checked the base inventory like ten times. Nothing else was stolen.

Which means our soldiers are retaliating, throwing Kiss Pops to fight the Sunshines. As if the city gangs are some kind of invading force, not desperate civilians.

Of course the gangs attacked the base. They thought we had food.

I pull the bed close and reach for Wren’s wrist, find the communicator watch she usually issues commands through. Except the screen is busted and won’t light up no matter how hard I tap.

“Okay,” I say. “Okay. Where’s your flipcom?” I skim through all Wren’s pockets. “Come on, you always have it.”

She does. Even now, broken and bloody.

And alive. Absolutely, positively alive.

I pull the flipcom from her jacket, and press the fast-connect circle on the neon screen.

“Connecting,” says the male automation. “Please, wait.”

The flightwing slowly inclines; Wren’s bed shifts as we gain height. I dig my heels into the floor.

“Connecting, please—”

“My Lady?” Casser booms, thick with astonishment and hope.

“You have to stop firing!” I say.

Screams in the background, crashes and static.

“Asa?” Casser asks.

“You have to stop, they’re our people!”

“The gangs? They’re bombing us.”

“Because they’re hungry. They think all the stockpiled food is safe! Do not fire!”

Except hungry isn’t the right word. Not after seven months quarantined on a Blighted planet, where everything is contaminated, even us. Wren’s endless ration cuts couldn’t stretch the supplies out forever.

Not that the city knows that because Wren told the cameras we had enough food, more than enough to get through. Showed off the packed supply warehouse in light bright enough to hide the food’s tainted green glow. I’d confronted her after the cameras left, and she rounded on me. What would you have me say? she asked. We’re all going to starve?

In the speakers, someone calls Casser’s name and he barks a muffled order.

“Asa. This is an emergency state, we cannot allow civilians to—”

“No! No retaliation. They’re our people. We protect them. You know what Dad always says—”

“My Lord isn’t here and neither are you.” Sharp in the speakers, sharper under my skin. “I know you’re worried for your sister, but I don’t have time for this.”

“Captain Casser.” I put Dad in my voice and steel in my spine. “You will regain the parameter and minimize damage, but you will not retaliate. You will protect our people—all our people—on the base and off.”

Restrained, silent thunder.

I may be youngest—sixteen to Wren’s twenty, and not firstborn Heir and future ruler of our interplanetary House, but I’m still a Daughter of Fane. Dad can gainsay me.

The captain can’t.

“Do. Not. Fire,” I say.

“As you say, my lady,” he barks and hangs up.