by Erica Cameron
Publication Date: November 4, 2019
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Cira Antares is deeply loyal to two things: Pax Novis—the cargo ship captained by her mother that transports supplies across war-torn star systems—and her personal mission to save war orphans. But hiding them as stowaways on the ship is illegal, and if any of them were found, not even her mother could protect Cira from the consequences.
She has successfully kept her secret…until supplies start to go missing. Food. Clothing. Tools. All signs point to her stowaways, but they wouldn’t do anything to risk exposing themselves—or her. Especially not Riston, the oldest of the group and someone Cira has grown close to. Someone she might even be falling in love with…
And petty thefts are only the beginning—whole ships are disappearing now.
Not caught in a firefight. Not destroyed by another planet. Vanishing. Without a trace.
And Pax Novis is next.
The gleaming white hull of PCCS Novis extended from its docking port in either direction, so big it looked more like a new extension of Mitu Station that just hadn’t been painted yet. From most angles, Pax Novis looked like a massive white multifaceted rectangle with three saucer-shaped sections rising from one end. Those were the living quarters, kept separate from the command and cargo sectors where the crew worked. Forward, the body split to create a massive external cargo hold. Modular cargo pods were held between twin gangways extending from the main body, and a quick look told Riston’s knowledgeable eye that the last of the modpods were about to be fixed in place.
Ze’d spent more time on the planet than ze’d realized. Either that or the Mitu’s loading crew had been quicker than usual in uncoupling the containers destined for this port and attaching new ones. Hurrying, Riston grabbed zir pack, disembarked, and jogged through the shuttle bay while simultaneously digging through the pack for zir coat. The uniform always served zem well planetside, but on stations it tended to bring more questions than respect. Workers in port recognized the personnel who handled docking each Pax vessel. Someone seeing a new face in a familiar uniform would only bring Riston the wrong sort of attention.
Struggling to keep moving while fixing the set of the coat over zir shoulders, ze aimed for a supply closet on the far end of the massive shuttle bay. Zir vacuum suit was hidden inside, covered by the detritus a station collected and forgot about after operating for more than six hundred Terra-Sol cycles.
As Riston approached the hallway leading to the machine shops and storage compartments, ze cast one last look back at the busy bay. Ze hadn’t passed through the room without being seen—that was impossible—but it didn’t seem like anyone was giving zem more than a casual glance, and that was good enough. Picking up zir pace, ze rounded the corner—
And collided with someone coming toward zem from the opposite direction.
The other person cursed and stumbled backward a few steps before catching themselves on the wall. “Damn, watch where you’re going, you—” They looked up and the words stopped.
So did Riston’s heart. It had been a few cycles, and the time between their last meeting on Datax and now hadn’t been kind, but there was no mistaking Minya Pon. On the same day she earned the three-prong scar marring her left cheek, her jaw, and the length of her neck, she had, inadvertently, saved Riston’s life once on Datax. If she recognized zem now, though, she might also inadvertently end it.
“Stars,” Minya breathed. “You look so much like…”
“Sorry about running into you.” Heart pounding so hard ze could barely hear zirself think, Riston picked up the bag ze’d dropped and looked anywhere but at Minya’s painfully familiar face. “Hope I didn’t hurt you. I’ll watch where I’m going better next time.”
“Wait, are you—”
Ze didn’t stick around to hear the end of the question. Walking at a fast clip, ze was down the hall and around the corner in seconds. Only when ze was out of sight did ze release a shuddering breath and look down.
She hadn’t seen the uniform. Although zir coat wasn’t on quite right, all that was visible of the clothing underneath was a strip of white. That was better. Not okay, but better, because even though Minya had seen zir face, she wouldn’t be able to report that an orphan she’d known on Datax—one who was probably considered either missing or dead by everyone who’d known zir name—had inexplicably turned up dressed like a Pax officer. No one cared where orphans turned up so long as they weren’t costing anyone credits or time. Impersonating a Pax officer, though, would get Riston tossed in a prison cell for at least a full cycle. And if they decided to look closer at the only Pax ship docked at Mitu when ze was captured because ze’d been careless? That would cause problems ze’d never forgive zirself for.
Bile rose in zir throat, and zir hands shook as ze pulled the coat tighter around zirself, but ze managed to pick up the pace without stumbling. One more main corridor, one smaller side passage, and ze was finally at the supply closet. Ze stopped outside the door, took a deep breath, and tried not to look like ze was on the verge of absolute panic as ze stepped inside.
Thankfully, the room was empty. No one was inside, and zir vac suit was the only one left in the room. The others had left nothing but a note behind.
Wish you were here, Zazi.
Hope you didn’t get lost.
Thank the stars. All four of them—Greenie, Tinker, Shadow, and Treble—had been and gone safely, then. If ze didn’t hurry, Novis would leave without zem.
It only took two minutes and thirteen seconds to fit the suit on over zir PCCS uniform—ze’d done this so many times over the cycles, ze could probably beat a seasoned Marine—but it was harder than ever today. Zir hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Fear and an overactive imagination turned every sound outside the door into Minya directing the station’s security to search for zem, but no one came into the room. No one even tried.
Still, despite knowing that ze was cutting it extraordinarily close, ze waited seven full minutes to be sure the hallway outside the closet was clear. Ze’d rather be left behind than risk trouble following zem back to Cira.
The trip from the corridor to the emergency air lock usually took three minutes. Riston’s heart was still pounding double time, and zir breath came so quickly it was creating spots of fog on the inside of zir helmet. For the entire trip, every camera on the suit was on and active, projecting their independent views in a row of tiny boxes in zir periphery. Movement behind and to the left registered on one of the sensors. Riston flattened zirself against the wall seconds before Minya crossed at a nearby intersection. She was walking slowly, scanning up and down the hall as she passed, but she didn’t stop, and she seemed to be alone. But she might be back.
As soon as Minya was out of sight, Riston ran. Two more corridors and the air lock was right in front of zem. This, though, was the hardest part. It took at least nine minutes to go through the protocols to “test” the air lock and assure it that, yes, ze really did want the blasted thing to open, and yes, ze really meant it, and no, don’t alert the station engineer, dammit!
Then, finally, the gravity of the station released zem. Shoving aside everything but the empty stretch of space ahead, Riston pushed into the black where few of zir problems could follow. Ze activated the suit’s small thrusters and aimed zirself straight for home.
About the author:
Erica Cameron is the author of books for young adults including the Ryogan Chronicles, the Assassins duology, and The Dream War Saga. She also co-authored the Laguna Tides novels with Lani Woodland. An advocate for asexuality and emotional abuse awareness, Erica has also worked with teens at a residential rehabilitation facility in her hometown of Fort Lauderdale.