Is this the end?
What happens when you ask a bunch of losers, discipline cases, and misfits to save the galaxy from an ancient evil? The ancient evil wins, of course.
Wait. . . . Not. So. Fast.
When we last saw Squad 312, they working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally.
But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite theirs. Maybe two. It's complicated.
Cue Zila, Fin, and Scarlett (and MAGELLAN!): making friends, making enemies, and making history? Sure, no problem
Cue Tyler, Kal, and Auri: uniting with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay. That, too.
Actually saving the galaxy, though? Now that will take a miracle.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I am rarely surprised. In any situation, I habitually calculate the odds of all possible outcomes, ensuring I am prepared for every eventuality.
Nevertheless, I am extremely surprised to discover I am still alive.
I spend six seconds in openmouthed shock, blinking slowly. After that, I press two fingers to my neck to check my pulse, which is rapid but unquestionably present. This suggests I am not experiencing an unexpected version of the afterlife.
A glance out of the cockpit viewshields reveals nothing--no stars, no ships, simple blackness. On instinct, I check our failing sensors, long-range and short. Strangely, I do not see any sign of the enormous battle that was raging around us moments ago, just before the Eshvaren Weapon blew itself apart--an incident with no possible outcome but our complete incineration.
Impossible as it may be, the entire Syldrathi armada, along with the Terran and Betraskan fleet, and the Weapon, have . . . vanished.
. . . Interesting?
I let my training take over, instructing the ancient navcom on our Syldrathi ship to catalog all visible stars, FoldGates, and other landmarks or phenomena and then advise on our present location.
I flick on comms. “Finian, Scarlett, are you still . . . ?”
“Breathing?” comes Finian’s voice, a touch uneven.
A wave of relief washes through me, and I do not attempt to prevent it. It is inefficient to combat such sensations. Better to let them pass naturally
“I am one confused boy right now,” Fin continues.
“Didn’t we just . . . explode a moment ago?” Scarlett asks.
“. . . Lemme check,” Fin replies.
I hear a small squeak. A soft sigh. A long moment passes, and I am almost tempted to send a query when Finian speaks.
“Yeah,” he finally reports. “We’re definitely still alive.”
“I am investigating,” I advise them, as the navcom pings softly. “Please hold.”
Consulting the ship’s guidance systems, I feel a small frown forming between my brows. Not only is there no sign of the massive battle that should have killed us, there is also no sign of the planetary bodies of the Terran solar system. No Neptune, no Uranus, no Jupiter.
In fact, I can detect no stellar features at all, near or far.
We have . . . moved.
And I have no idea where.
Interesting AND unnerving.
A new icon pops up on the fritzing sensor display, indicating something is behind us. Our engines are still down, disabled during the fleet battle, so I turn on our rear sensors, looking at the vast stretch of space to our aft.
It . . .
That is to say . . .
I, um . . .
I . . .
Stop that, legionnaire.
I suck in a deep breath, straightening my spine.
I do not understand what I am seeing.
I begin by cataloging what can be observed, as any scientist would.
The ship’s sensors are reading colossal fluctuations along the gravitonic and electromagnetic spectrums, bursts of quantum particles and reverberations through subspace. But engaging our aft cameras, I can barely see anything of this disruption in the visual spectrum at all.
In fact, at first, I mistakenly assume our visual arrays have been damaged. Everything is totally black. And then a pale light flares in the distance, a small pulse of disintegrating photons. And by their brief mauve glow, I glimpse what can only be described as . . .
A dark storm.
It is enormous. Trillions upon trillions of kilometers wide. But it is utterly black, save for those brief photon flares within--an oily, seething emptiness, so complete that light simply dies inside it.
I know what this is.
“A tempest,” I whisper. “A dark matter tempest.”
Its presence would be strange enough, given that mere moments ago we were on the very edge of Terran space, where no such spatial anomaly exists. But stranger still, I see something more. Engaging my magnification settings, I confirm my suspicion. To our starboard, etched in silver against that seething storm of blackness, is a . . . space station.
It is a bulky, ugly thing, clearly built for function, not aesthetics. It appears to have been damaged--great crackling bolts of current slither over its surface, blinding and white. From the side closest to us, vapor is venting: fuel, or if the crew are unlucky, is oxygen and atmosphere, puffing out like warm breath on a cold day and dragged into that endless roiling darkness.
If it is Terran, the station’s design specs are positively archaic.
But that does not explain what it is doing here in the first place.
Or how we got here.
None of this makes sense.
“Zila?” It’s Scarlett. “What’s happening out there? Can you see the Eshvaren Weapon? What’s the status on the enemy fleet? Are we in danger?”
“We . . .” I am not sure how to answer her question.
There is a thick cable of gleaming metal stretching from the station. Hundreds of thousands of kilometers long, it twists and ripples but holds firm to the battered structure at one end. At the other, out on the edge of that seething tempest of dark matter, a great quicksilver sail is stretched across a rectangular frame, its surface swirling like an oil slick. It appears tiny on my visuals, but for me to even be able to see it at all from here, the sail must be immense.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was--
“Unknown vessel, you have entered restricted Terran space. Identify yourself and provide clearance codes, or you will be fired upon. You have thirty seconds to comply.”
The voice crackles through the cockpit, harsh and discordant. My pulse kicks up a notch, which is unhelpful.
I cannot see another vessel. Where is the voice coming from?
Leaving aside the fact that I have no clearance codes, I do not know whether the hail comes from friend or foe.
Not that my squad has a long list of friends just now.
I depress the switch for intrasquad comms and speak urgently. “Scarlett, please hurry to the bridge. Diplomacies are required.”
“Unknown vessel, identify yourself and provide clearance codes. Failure to comply will be interpreted as hostile intent. You have twenty seconds remaining.”
I scan the shuttle’s controls and stretch--every Syldrathi over the age of twelve is taller than me--to press the button that will switch our channel from audio to visual. I must find out who is addressing me.
The face that fills my commscreen is covered by a black breathing apparatus, a thick hose snaking out of sight. The mask conceals everything beneath the pilot’s eyes, and a helmet hides everything above.
I am looking at a Terran, though, most likely East Asian in origin, age and gender unclear. Strange as my situation is, perhaps a Terran can be reasoned with--we are the same species, after all.
“Please hold,” I say. “I am summoning my team’s Face.”
“Ident codes!” the pilot demands, eyes narrowing. “Now!”
“Understood,” I tell them. “I cannot provide codes, but--”
“You are in violation of restricted Terran space! You have ten seconds to provide proper clearance, or I will fire on you!”
All around me, alarms flare into life, lights flashing and Syldrathi symbols illuminating as a loudspeaker barks at me. I don’t understand the words, but I know what it’s saying.
“Warning, warning, missile lock detected.”
“Please,” I say. “Please, wait--”
I watch a tiny line of light appear on our scanners.
We have no engines. No navigation. No defenses.
We should be dead already. Incinerated with Aurora and the Weapon. But it seems somehow unfair to have to die again.
The light draws closer.
The missile strikes.
Fire tears through the bridge.
Black light burns white across my skin. I can taste the sound around me, metallic on the back of my tongue, hearing touch and feeling scent as everything I am and was and will ever be rips itself apart and together and together and togeth--
I open my eyes, see another pair of eyes before mine.
“Did you . . . ?” I ask.
“Was that . . . ?” Fin says.
“Weird,” we murmur.
I look around us, a strange black-cat creepy-crawly feeling of déjà vu spidering its way up my spine.
We’re standing in the corridor outside the engine room, just where we were a minute ago when the Eshvaren Weapon fired a whole beamful of planet-destroying badness into our favorite faces and then blew itself to tiny shinies. But, joy of joys, we are not, in fact, dead.
This comes as good news for a couple of reasons.
First, of course, and speaking frankly, it would be a bad move on the universe’s part to waste an ass like mine by incinerating it in a fiery explosion in the depths of space. Honestly, they come along, like, once a millennium.
Second, it means the boy standing opposite me isn’t dead, either. And strangely, that’s a whole lot more important to me than I would’ve admitted a few hours ago.
Finian de Karran de Seel.
He’s totally not my type. Brains not brawn. Chip on his shoulder as wide as the galaxy. But he’s brave. And he’s smart. And standing this close, I can’t help but notice that tumble of white hair and smooth pale skin and lips I almost kissed as we were about to die.
But that’s the only reason I did it.
Because we were totally about to die, right?
We stare at each other, conscious of how close we’re still standing. Neither of us is moving away. He looks into my eyes and I open my mouth, but for the first time in as long as I can remember, I have no idea what to say, and the only thing that saves me from the embarrassment of being speechless, when the only thing I’m really good at is talking, is Zila’s voice crackling over comms.
“Finian, Scarlett, are you still . . . ?”
“Breathing?” Finian says, his voice a little uneven.
And there it is again. That same creepy black-cat-walking-on-your-grave feeling. The feeling that--
“I am one confused boy right now,” Finian says.
“Didn’t we just . . . explode a moment ago?” I ask.
He meets my eyes again. I can still feel that almost-kiss between us, and I know he can too. And I see him steel himself, take a deep breath.
“. . . Lemme check,” he says.
I feel electricity crackle when his fingertips brush mine. He takes my hand in his and he stares at me for just a second longer in silent question, and he’s totally not my type but I’m still not moving away. And now he’s leaning closer, and closer, and even though we’re not about to die anymore, he’s kissing me, oh Maker, he’s kissing me, the sensation sizzling like live current though my lips and all the way down my spine. I feel myself surge against him, kissing him back, tingling as I feel his hands slip over my hips, down to that ass even the universe wouldn’t dare waste, and squeeze in all the right ways.
Well, Finian de Karran de Seel. Bless my stars.
Who in the galaxy would’ve guessed you had game?
Our lips break apart, and a part of me aches as he leans away, speaking into comms again.
“Yeah,” he reports. “We’re definitely still alive.”
“I am investigating,” Zila says. “Please hold.”
The comms channel crackles out, leaving us alone. Fin and I are still pressed against each other and that kiss hangs between us now, and if one of us doesn’t say something, I know we’re going to start again. Given the circumstances, that’s probably not the smartest idea.
I glance down at his hands.
Yep. Still on my ass.
“You know, when Zila said ‘Please hold,’ I’m not sure that’s what she meant, de Seel.”
He laughs, nervous, releasing his grip. “Sorry.”
And I lunge for his mouth again, just a brief collision, hard and hot. Biting his lip as I break away to let him know I’m still hungry.
“But we need to figure out what the hells just happened.”
“Yeah.” He breathes deep and steps away, dragging his metal-tipped fingers through his shock of white hair. “Yeah, we do.”
We’re still in the corridor outside the shuttle’s engine room, doors still sealed. The air is sharp with the smell of burned plasteel, fused wiring, smoke. Looking through the plexiglass, I can see what that railgun round did to our engines when it hit us, and I know I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure engines aren’t supposed to come in fifty different pieces.
“We need those to fly,” I say.
“Who said you couldn’t have been a Gearhead?”
“Every instructor I ever had at the academy, along with my guidance counselor and the head of the Engineering Division.”
Finian smirks and glances around us. His dark eyes roam the ceiling, the ruined engine room. And then his stare drifts to my chest. His jaw goes a little slack, and I can practically see his eyes glazing over behind his contacts.
What is it with boys and boobs, honestly?
“Hey.” I snap my fingers. “I know they’re sensational, but seriously, mind on the job, de Seel.”
“No.” He taps his throat. “Your necklace. Remember?”
I reach up to my throat. To the necklace we found in the Dominion Repository back on Emerald City. Each of us had a gift waiting in that vault, courtesy of Admiral Adams and Battle Leader de Stoy. Tyler got his new boots, Kal the cigarillo case that saved his life. Finian got a ballpoint pen, which he was hilariously annoyed about; Zila got a pair of earrings with hawks on them. And I got this diamond necklace, inscribed with the words Go with Plan B. Except right before we were about to be blasted into our component molecules, Fin realized it wasn’t diamond at all.
“It’s Eshvaren crystal.”
And yeah, that is weird. We’d found Eshvaren crystal in the Fold before--the probe that led Auri to the Echo. But that doesn’t really explain why the academy commanders gave me a necklace of the stuff.
Or why we’re not dead?
The adrenaline of almost dying and almost kissing and then definitely not dying but, yes, definitely kissing is wearing off now, and my hands feel shaky. But my eyes still roam Finian’s body as he looks around the corridor in that annoyed/confused way he has, like the universe has decided to inconvenience him specifically. Limbs wrapped in the silver cladding of his exosuit, ghost-pale skin, and pitch-black eyes narrowed as he tilts his head.