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 Read An Excerpt: Chapter 8, Pages 61-63

Kirsten met her friends at lunch and they whispered around a table at the back of the mess deck while they picked at their food.

"Yeah, but what if she's lying?" Po Li said.

"No. When I'm that close I can always tell," Kirsten said. "And Silver just sat there like a lump the whole time. Mechata doesn't like Dr. Soo, but she didn't do it. I just wish she hadn't overwritten her copy of the models. We have to keep looking."

"At Quimby?" Cindy said.

"I don't think I could tail Quimby for very long," Cherise said.

"Yeah, 'specially not to the head," Po Li said. She giggled, and Cherise scowled at her.

"You guys can't follow anyone anywhere for a couple of days," Angie said. "You've got that survival exercise tomorrow."

Cindy nodded and frowned. "How are we supposed to do any homework over the weekend if they drop us in the middle of the jungle?"

"It's for your own good," Angie said. "If I get shipwrecked somewhere, I sure wouldn't want it to be the first time I ever got along without three hot meals a day."

"Why is it whenever I have to do something really yucky, somebody tells me it's for my own good?" Cindy said.

"Chill up, Cin," Po Li said. "We'll have plenty to eat. We'll barbecue some of those big tree lizards. Cherise can practice being less obvious when she hunts for them."

"If I had a stun gun we'd barbecue a wild Prune," Cherise said.

"Barbecued fruit? Ick!" Po Li said. "Anyway, I think you have to hunt them with a pointed stick."

Cherise leaned across the table toward Po Li. Kirsten grabbed her hand.

"Enough, guys," Kirsten said. "I just want to get back without getting lost in a swamp or falling in a river or something." Silver nudged her chin with his head and she glanced at her wrist chronometer. "We've got the briefing in ten minutes."

"Have fun," Angie said.

"You'll get your chance next year, "Kirsten said.

"I can't wait, "Angie said, and carried her tray to the scullery window.

Three hundred Academy sophomores fidgeted in Farragut Auditorium. Lieutenant Morgan paced the side of the room. Po Li nudged Kirsten when he looked right at them.

"He's not going on this little excursion, is he?" Po Li whispered.

"No," Kirsten said. "This is Commander Benedetto's party."

"Ooh, wow," Cherise whispered. "He can hunt tree lizards with me any time.

"Cherise, if you faint when he comes in we'll just kick you under the seat and leave you there," Cindy said.

Kirsten smothered a giggle in Silver's fur just as Benedetto appeared through a door at the back of the podium. He stepped to the lectern. Gold eagles flashed on the collar of his Federated Planets Navy dress blues. His short black hair was combed straight back from a wide forehead. Watery blue eyes scanned the cadets' faces. Cherise moaned, soft and low.

"One more of those and I'll deck you," Po Li whispered.

Benedetto cleared his throat. "Right. Let's get to it."

His voice boomed through the microphone like liquid thunder. He turned to the vid screen that took up most of the ten-meter high wall behind him.

"This is the survival suit you'll wear," he said.

On-screen, a young man in shorts and a tee shirt pulled on a heavy gray overall.

"You'll find them in all FP Fleet escape pods, and they're the only thing between you and a really nasty death if your pod happens to land on most planets in the galaxy. They're made of micro-woven, high-density, metal alloy strands, so they won't tear or rip. They'll shield you from most radiation and poisonous gasses for ten to twelve days. Observe carefully how the intake hose from the air canister is connected at the front. If you can't breathe, that's the first thing to check. The chemicals in the canister will produce enough air mixture for about twenty four hours, then you can replace it. Like this."

The man on the screen, now hidden inside the suit and helmet, twisted a lever at his waist with his gloved left hand. He turned to the side and reached behind his back. The flat, rectangular canister slid off and dropped into his right hand.

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