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 Read An Excerpt: Chapter 1, Pages 1-2

A cool Canadian wind blew off Lake Michigan and whistled through steel girders that supported the space ship's ramps. The ship, a four hundred meter upside down ice cream cone, sat on a fifty-acre pad of concrete and tarmac that had once been a Ford assembly plant. The titanium alloy hull shimmered in the heat of the summer sun, dull brown and pitted with millions of tiny craters zapped by microscopic dust particles striking at nearly the speed of light. Off-white, oval Repellor engines the size of antique Winnebagos clustered around its base like little scoops of vanilla. 

Kirsten had dreamed of this day for as long as she could remember. She hoisted the polymer spacer bag to her shoulder and hugged her mother. Her father squeezed her arm and turned away, but not before she saw the tears.

"G'bye, Dad," she said. He waved, but didn't turn around. "G'bye, Mom. I'll write."

"You better," her mother said. She kissed Kirsten, and stepped backward.

Kirsten wiped her eyes and butterflies danced in her belly as she joined the ragged line on the entry ramp. Kirsten didn't try to repress her empathic sense, but let the other passengers' emotions wash over her like breakers on the beach. Two hundred anxious students, aged 16 to 19, jostled up the entry ramp. A riot of fear, joy and sadness cascaded over Kirsten until she stood at the entry door.  Tears streamed down her face, and she grinned like a demented gargoyle. One of the crew laid a hand on her shoulder as she entered the airlock.

You'll be OK, Newbie," the woman said. "A lot of us get psyched up the first time out."

"It's not that," Kirsten said. "I've been in space before." To the resort town on Luna, but that counted, didn't it? "I guess I'm just excited to finally be going to the Academy, and everyone's so…" She bit her lip.

How do you explain the empathic talent to a non-empath? Kirsten smiled at the woman, and dabbed her face with a sleeve. She walked through the wide door and concentrated on the empath suppression drills that kept her from being overwhelmed by others' emotions. But the woman had called her "Newbie." That was the term used for new cadets at the Academy, which meant that, at least to one person, she already was a cadet. She shivered with joy as she walked through the passageways, until she realized that she was not only alone, but lost in the maze. The map of the berthing area didn't make any sense, so she stopped and slipped the bag off her shoulder. Someone rammed her from behind. Kirsten spun and grabbed a handful of the person's tunic to keep from falling.

"Hey, watch it!" said the girl who had run over her. "Are you trying to kill somebody?"

"Sorry," Kirsten said, and leaned on the bulkhead. "I didn't know anyone was behind me."

"Pay more attention in the future," the girl said, and brushed a hand across her tunic. She picked up her spacer bag from the floor. It was hand stitched of buttery leather, and her tunic had felt like real silk. The girl stood several centimeters taller than Kirsten, very pretty, with a thick mane of dark brown hair that shimmered in the ghostly light of the ship's LumiLamps. Kirsten didn't need the confirmation of her empathic sense to conclude that this was not a good candidate for a close friend. With a petulant flip of her hair, the girl stalked away.


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