Extract: Light Years by Kass Morgan

Light Years by Kass Morgan

By Maddy Marshall

Posted on September 12, 2018 in Books, Science Fiction, Young Adult with tags Kass Morgan, Science Fiction, Young Adult, the 100

Light Years is the first book in a thrilling new sci-fi series by Kass Morgan, bestselling author of The 100 series.

It follows a group of teenage cadets who attend an interstellar military academy in a galaxy far away. From very different planets and circumstances, these cadets have to learn to work together, all the while harbouring dark secrets and falling in love with people they shouldn’t. Featuring a vibrant set of characters with plenty of fast-paced action, romance and plot twists, we can’t wait to share it with you. Read on for an early extract.

Chapter 1
Cormak

The airlock opened with a hiss, and Cormak shot off through the blisteringly hot, pink-tinged air. As his bike sped across the cracked red ground, he took shallow breaths until he was sure that his gas mask was working. Then he exhaled and jolted the roader into a higher gear, leaning forward to make his body as streamlined as possible. After spending all night delivering H2O to the luxury towers in Sector 2, it was a relief to be out in the open. The air in the towers might be quadruple filtered, but it always felt more suffocating than the poisonous atmosphere outside.

Water was strictly rationed on Deva, and most Settlers barely had enough for drinking, let alone showering more than once a week. But for a steep price, anyone willing to risk punishment could buy it on the black market from people like Cormak’s boss, Sol. Cormak had been making deliveries to the luxury towers for two years, yet the wealthy residents still eyed him warily, as if he were something that should’ve been caught in the filters. He’d learned the hard way not to let his gaze linger longingly on anything in their apartments—not on the fruit growing in the terrariums, not on the films playing on the monitors, and especially not on the books locked in transparent cases to protect them from the corrosive air. If there was one thing rich people trusted less than a  dust-covered Devak, it was a  dust-covered Devak who liked to read.

It was fairly clear today, and in the distance, the towers of Sector 23 loomed up through the faint pink haze. Cormak lived on the thirty-first floor of Tower B, one of the six hulking cement structures that comprised his scenic home. If he was lucky, he’d get a few hours of sleep before Sol called with the next set of deliveries.

Cormak switched on his helmet radio, banging his gloved hand against the side a few times until the static cleared.

“—officials said fourteen miners were killed in the blast. And now, the local weather report,” a cheery voice chirped.

“The time is 27:40 in the morning.  Air-traffic conditions are suboptimal due to a storm in the mesosphere. Today’s high will be 212 centis. The low will be 199 centis. According to current atmospheric readings, breathing unfiltered air will kill you in two minutes and forty seconds. Have a wonderful day!”

Cormak cursed as he hit a rut. The deliveries were wreaking havoc on his roader, but he didn’t have a choice. Making runs for Sol beat fourteen hours a day in one of the few remaining mines, even if it meant working for the biggest asshole on Deva.

He straightened his legs and lifted himself up for a better view. The path ahead looked clear save for the remains of abandoned mining  equipment—  some rusty drills, huge broken barrels, and whatever tanker pieces hadn’t been snatched up by scavengers after the mine dried up.

The drone of the radio was cut off by an alert. “Incoming call from . . .  Cormak, you’d better accept this or you’re in for a world of pain. . . .  Do you accept?” Cormak sighed and mumbled, “Accept.”

“What the hell were you thinking?” a familiar voice barked. “You don’t mouth off to clients.”

“What are you talking about, Sol?” Cormak asked wearily.

“The way you spoke to Rella Hewitt was unacceptable. To say nothing of stealing product that she paid for.”

Cormak stifled a groan. On his way into the Hewitts’ building, he’d passed an exhausted-looking girl mopping the  floor— a fairly common sight on Deva, where kids often dropped out of school when their parents grew too sick to work. Cormak had offered her a tiny sip of H2O, just enough so she wouldn’t collapse before her shift ended. He’d forgotten that the nosy, bored Rella Hewitt often watched her building’s security feed, monitoring her neighbours even in the middle of the night. When he’d arrived at her door, she’d spent a good five minutes screeching at him before Cormak ended her tirade with a few well-chosen words.

“I gotta tell you, Sol. It’s tough to feel bad for rich people who care more about their exotic plants than Settler kids.” Unlike the Settlers, whose ancestors had arrived on Deva generations ago, most of the wealthy people were recent arrivals from Tri, the Quatra Federation’s capital planet.

“Oh, so now you’re gonna get all moral on me, asshole? Your job is to make deliveries and keep your mouth shut. You got it?”

“Got it,” Cormak muttered.

“You’re lucky I happen to have a kind, understanding nature. I’m going to give you one more chance. I have a pickup for you tonight at 29°22′ north, 99°48′ west. . . .  Why don’t I hear you pulling over to write that down?”

“29°22′ north, 99°48′ west,” Cormak repeated dully. “Roger that, chief.” He never forgot coordinates. He had a thing for numbers. He could see them rearranging themselves in his head into all sorts of combinations that allowed him to solve complex equations in seconds. Not that it had done him much good. Because he couldn’t show his work on maths exams, his teachers always assumed he was cheating. Their scepticism had made his brother, Rex, furious, but Cormak hadn’t really cared. Good grades only mattered for people like Rex—  the rare students smart enough to catch the instructors’ attention and likeable enough to justify the endless paperwork, favours, and bribes required to get into an  off-  planet university or training program. Though in the end, even Rex hadn’t made it off Deva.

“If you mess this up, you’re gonna be sorry. I mean it, Cormak.”

“I got it. I’ll be there tonight.” 29°22′ north, 99°48′ west was in Sector 22, where Sol had a contact who imported stolen nanotech from Tri. While water comprised the bulk of Sol’s trade, he also dabbled in weapons and had a passion for interstellar cryptocommerce. There was a rumour that he’d even hacked the Tridian Bank.

“Shit,” Cormak grunted as his roader hit another rut and flew into the air. He managed to keep the bike steady but landed hard enough that the vibrations coursed through his body. He glanced down to check that his pants were still tucked into his boots. Exposed skin allowed the poisonous air to seep into your pores, killing you over the course of a few hours.

Deva was naturally toxic to humans. The planet was blanketed with a thick cloud of gas—  a combination of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and just enough oxygen to be filtered and piped into  vacuum-sealed buildings. It also happened to be rich in terranium, the metal that was once used to build the vast majority of the buildings on Tri.

A hundred years ago, mine owners and metal exporters from Tri had come to Deva eager to stake their claim. They had built enormous bubbles around their comfortable homes to protect themselves from the toxic atmosphere and traveled back and forth to work in customized zipcrafts with backup oxygen-  filtration systems. Then they’d built towers for the hundreds of thousands of workers they lured to Deva with promises of high wages and a new start. The towers were close enough to the mines that the workers could walk there, trudging through the toxic pink fog in their  company-  issued gas masks. The masks, of course, didn’t have backup systems.

Then, about twenty years ago, developers discovered an even stronger metal, fyron, on Chetire and the terranium market bottomed out. The majority of the mines shut down, but of course, the time the miners had already spent underground was more than enough to corrode their organs. Cormak’s father had died at the ripe old age of  thirty-nine with more tumours in his lungs than coins in his pocket.

Up ahead, something shimmered near the horizon. A pol in a zipcraft. Cormak cursed and veered sharply off the road and into the bumpy, trench-filled wasteland. He hadn’t been doing anything  illegal—  nothing that could’ve been spotted from the air, at  least—  but the pols stopped anyone they felt like messing with. If they pulled him over and found the stolen water, he’d be screwed. Most people who got arrested on Deva didn’t get citations, and they didn’t get trials. They were simply never heard from again. Cormak sped up and angled the bike on the most direct route to the canyon, a series of channels that the miners had created long ago. It was too narrow for the zipcraft to follow and too dark to allow the  facial-  recognition mechanism to identity Cormak from afar.

Over the roar of his engine came the distinctive buzz of the pol’s zipcraft. Cormak forced himself to steady his breathing. The mask could filter only a certain amount of air at a time.

“Halt and dismount from your vehicle,” a loud voice droned from above. “You have entered a restricted area and are required to show identification.”

Restricted area my ass. The canyon hadn’t been “restricted” for the past two decades. It was just a bullshit excuse the pols used when they felt like searching someone. Cormak leaned over even lower, urging his roader to speed up. Red dust churned up on either side of him, and every time he went over a rock or a dip in the road, the bike flew into the air.

The entrance to the canyon loomed up ahead, a narrow gash in the  red-  dirt hill. There was no way the zipcraft would fit through it. If Cormak could make it there in time, the pol would have to give up the chase.

“Halt and dismount from your vehicle,” the voice commanded. “This is your final warning.”

The canyon was a hundred mitons away. Now ninety. Cormak sped up even more. Seventy. He glanced over his shoulder and cursed. Why wasn’t the zipcraft turning around?

The canyon entrance grew larger. Now he was forty mitons away. Thirty. The canyon was only about seven mitons across, barely wide enough for two roaders to drive side by side, let alone a zipcraft. The pol was going to pull up soon. He had to.

A sudden rush of hot air nearly knocked Cormak off his bike. The zipcraft had dropped closer to the ground and was now driving alongside him. “Pull over,” the pol shouted.

In response, Cormak crouched even lower and slammed the accelerator as far as it would go. He aimed for the canyon entrance and held his breath, praying that the pol wouldn’t try to speed ahead and block him, and end up killing them both.

He plunged into shadow as the canyon walls soared up on either side of him, then glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the zipcraft veer sharply to the left. A few seconds later, he heard the crunch of metal followed by a thud.

Cormak braked so hard that the roader spun out, slamming against the wall of the canyon. For a moment, he stayed there, slumped over and panting as dull pain throbbed through his ribs. But as he watched the pol’s shadow emerge from the battered zipcraft, Cormak let out a long breath. There was no chance of that guy catching up with him now. He straightened up and revved the engine, smiling as it drowned out the echoes of the pol’s curses.


Copyright © 2018 by Kass Morgan and Alloy Entertainment

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