SNEAK PEEK! Watch the Video and Start Reading Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
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Only fools climb to the surface. It’s stupid to put yourself in danger like that, my mother always says. Not only are there near-constant debris showers from the rubble belt, but you never know when the Krell will attack.
Of course, my father traveled to the surface basically every day—he had to, as a pilot. I suppose by my mother’s definition, that made him extra foolish, but I always considered him extra brave.
I was still surprised when, one day after years of listening to me beg, he finally agreed to take me up with him.
I was only seven years old, though in my mind, I was completely grown up and utterly capable. I hurried after my father, carrying a lantern to light the rubble-strewn cavern. A lot of the rocks in the tunnel were broken and cracked, most likely from Krell bombings—things I’d often experienced down below as a rattling of dishware or trembling of light fixtures.
I imagined those broken rocks as the broken bodies of my enemies, their bones shattered, their trembling arms reaching upward in a useless gesture of total and complete defeat.
I was a very odd little girl.
I caught up to my father, and he looked back, then smiled. He had the best smile, so confident, like he never worried about what people said about him. Never worried that he was weird or didn’t fit in.
Of course, why should he have worried? Everyone liked him. Even people who hated things like ice cream and playing swords—even whiny little Rodge McCaffrey—liked my father.
My father took me by the arm and pointed upward. “Next part is a little tricky, Spensa. Let me lift you.”
“I can do it,” I said, and shook off his hand. I was grown up. I’d packed my own backpack and I’d left Bloodletter, my stuffed bear, at home. Stuffed bears were for babies, even if you’d fashioned your own mock power armor for yours out of string and broken ceramics.
Granted, I had put my toy starfighter in my backpack. I wasn’t crazy. What if we ended up getting caught in a Krell attack and they bombed our retreat, so we had to live out the rest of our lives as wasteland survivors, devoid of society or civilization?
A girl needs her toy starfighter with her, just in case.
I handed my backpack to my father and looked up at the crack in the stones. There was . . . something about that hole up there. An unnatural light seeped through it, something wholly unlike the soft glow of our lanterns.
The surface . . . the sky! I grinned and started climbing up a steep slope that was part rubble, part rock formation. My hands slipped and I scraped myself on a sharp edge, but I didn’t cry. The daughters of starfighters did not cry.
The crack in the cavern roof looked a hundred feet away to my eyes. I hated being so small. Any day now, I was going to grow tall, like my father. Then, for once, I wouldn’t be the smallest kid around. I’d be tall, and I’d laugh at them from up so high, they’d be forced to admit how great I was.
I growled softly as I reached the top of a rock. The next handhold was just out of reach. I eyed it. Then I jumped, determined. Like a good Defiant girl, I had the heart of a stardragon.
But I also had the body of a seven-year-old. So I missed by a good two feet.
A strong hand seized me before I could fall too far. My father chuckled, holding me by the back of my jumpsuit, which I’d painted with markers to look like his flight suit. He pulled me onto the rock beside him, then reached out with his free hand and activated his light-line.
The device looked like a metal bracelet, but once he engaged it by tapping his thumb and little finger together, the band glowed with a bright molten light. He touched a stone above, and when he drew his hand back, it left a thick line of light, like a glowing rope, fixed to the rock. He wrapped the other end around me so it fit snug under my arms, then detached it from his bracelet. The glow there faded, but the luminescent rope remained in place, attaching me to the rocks.
I’d always thought light-lines should burn to the touch, but it was just warm. Like a hug.
“Okay, Spensa,” he said. “Try it again.”
“I don’t need this,” I said, plucking at the safety rope. “Humor a frightened father.”
“Frightened? You aren’t frightened of anything. You fight the Krell.”
He laughed. “I’d rather face a hundred Krell ships than your mother on the day I bring you home with a broken arm, little one.”
“I’m not little. And if I break my arm, you can leave me here until I heal. I’ll fight the beasts of the caverns and become feral and wear their skins and—”
“Climb,” he said, still grinning. “You can fight the beasts of the caverns another time, though I think the only ones you’d find have long tails and buckteeth.”
I had to admit, the light-line was helpful: I could pull against it to brace myself. We reached the crack, and my father pushed me up first. I grabbed the lip and scrambled out of the caverns, reaching the surface for the first time in my life.
It was so open.
I gaped, standing there, looking up at . . . at nothing. Just . . . just . . . upness. No ceiling. No walls. I’d imagined the surface as a really, really big cavern. But it was so much more, and so much less, all at once.
My father heaved himself up after me and dusted the dirt from his flight suit. I glanced at him, then back up at the sky. I grinned widely.
“Not frightened?” he asked. I glared at him.
“Sorry,” he said with a chuckle. “Wrong word. It’s just that a lot of people find the sky intimidating, Spensa.”
“It’s beautiful,” I whispered, staring up at that vast nothingness, air that extended up into an infinite grayness, fading to black. It was darker than I’d imagined, but enormous blocks of light shone here and there far above, providing light to the surface. There was nothing between us and them. “There’s so much of it. But it’s also empty.”
He knelt beside me. That darkness above, the shifting mass
of black shapes that included some blocks of light, must be the rubble belt. Our planet, Detritus, was protected and hidden by a huge veil of broken refuse that was way up high, even outside the air, in space.
It was left over from some great space battle from a long time ago. And there were tons of layers of it, the junk all rotating, churning, colliding. I saw lights shining down from some chunks, so some things up there still worked, providing illumination to a surface where nobody lived.
“The Krell live up there?” I asked. “Beyond the debris field?”
“We assume so,” Father said. “Nobody knows for certain. So much was destroyed during the wars before we fled to this planet.”
“How . . . how do they find us?” I asked. “There’s so much space up here.” The world seemed a much larger place than I’d imagined in the caverns below.
“They can sense when people gather together, somehow,” Father said. “Any time the population of a cavern gets too big, the Krell attack and bomb it. They have devices that can collapse caverns even far beneath the surface.”
The only way we survived was by splitting into small clans and constantly staying on the move. Never stopping in the same cavern for too long.
Except for the starfighters, who were gathering and building a base. Fighting back.
“Where’s Alta Base?” I asked. “You said we’d come up near it. Is that it?” I pointed toward some suspicious rocks. “It’s right there, isn’t it? I want to go see the starfighters.”
My father leaned down and turned me about ninety degrees, then pointed. “There.”
“Where?” I searched the surface, which was basically all just blue-gray dust and rocks, with craters from fallen debris from the rubble belt. “I can’t see it.”
“That’s the point, Spensa. We have to remain hidden.” “But you fight, don’t you? Won’t they eventually learn where the fighters are coming from? Why don’t you move the base?”
“We have to keep it here, above Igneous. That’s the big cavern I showed you last week.”
“The one with all the machines?”
He nodded. “Inside Igneous, we found manufactories; that’s what let us build starships to fight back. We have to live nearby to protect the machinery, but we fly missions anywhere the Krell come down, anywhere they decide to bomb.”
“You protect other clans?” I asked, frowning. I didn’t know a lot about this—everyone tried to keep it secret from me and ignored my questions, even though I was basically grown up.
He turned my head toward him and raised his finger. “To me, there is only one clan that matters: humankind. Before we crashed here, we were all part of the same fleet—and someday, all the wandering clans will remember that. They will come when we call them. They’ll gather together, and we’ll form a city and build a civilization again.”
“Won’t the Krell bomb it?” I asked, but cut him off before he could reply. “No. Not if we’re strong enough. Not if we stand and fight back.”
“I’m going to have my own ship,” I said. “I’m going to fly it, just like you. And then nobody in the clan will be able to make fun of me, because I’ll be famous.”
“Is that . . . is that why you want to be a pilot?”
“They can’t say you’re too small when you’re a pilot,” I said. “Nobody will think I’m weird, and I won’t get into trouble for fighting, because my job will be fighting. They won’t call me names, and everyone will love me.”
Like they love you.
That made my father hug me, for some stupid reason, even though I was just telling the truth. But I hugged him back, because parents like stuff like that. Besides, it did feel good to have someone to hold. Maybe I shouldn’t have left Bloodletter behind.
Father’s breath caught, and I thought he might be crying, but it wasn’t that. “Spensa!” he said, turning me again. “Look!” He pointed toward the sky. Again, I was struck by it.
Father was pointing at something specific. I squinted, noting that a section of the debris field was darker. No, not darker . . . was it missing? A hole in the sky?
In that moment, I looked out into infinity. I found myself trembling as if a billion meteors had hit nearby. I could see space itself, with little pinpricks of white in it, different from the enormous lights shining to illuminate the surface. The pinpricks sparkled, and seemed so, so far away.
“What are those lights?” I whispered.
“Stars,” he said. “We used to live out there. I fly up near the debris, but I’ve almost never seen through it. There are too many layers. Once in a while, you get a glimpse, though—and I’ve always wondered if I could get through.”
There was awe in his voice, a tone I didn’t think I’d ever heard from him before.
“Is that why you fly?” I asked.
My father didn’t seem to care about the praise the other members of the clan gave him. Strangely, he seemed embarrassed by it, and talked about just wanting to get back into his ship. I never understood it. Wasn’t the way everyone treated you the point of becoming a pilot? Stupid Rodge McCaffrey said it was.
My father drew my attention back to the hole in the sky. “Our real home,” he whispered. “That’s where we belong, not in those caverns. The kids who make fun of you, they’re trapped on this rock. Their heads are heads of rock, their hearts set upon rock. Set your sights on something higher. Something more grand.”
The debris shifted, and the hole shrank, until all I could see was a single star, brighter than the others.
“Claim the stars, Spensa,” he said.
The debris finally covered up the hole, but I remembered how it had looked. I was going to be a starfighter someday. I would fly up there and see those stars again. I just hoped my father would leave some Krell for me to fight when I—
I squinted as something flashed in the sky. A distant piece of debris, burning up as it entered the atmosphere.
Then another fell, and another. Then dozens.
My father frowned and reached for his radio—a super-advanced piece of technology that was given only to pilots. He lifted the blocky device to his mouth. “This is Chaser,” he said. “I’m on the surface. I see a debris fall at heading 605 from Alta.”
“We’ve spotted it already, Chaser,” a female voice said over the radio. “Radar reports are coming in now, and . . . Scud.
We’ve got Krell.”
“What cavern are they headed for?” my father asked. “Their heading is . . . Chaser, they’re heading this way.
They’re flying straight for Igneous. Stars help us. They’ve located the base!”
My father lowered his radio.
“Large Krell breach sighted,” the woman’s voice said through the radio. “Everyone, this is an emergency. An extremely large group of Krell have breached the debris field. All fighters report in. They’re coming for Alta!”
My father looked at me, then took my arm. “Let’s get you back.”
“They need you! You’ve got to go fight!” “I have to get you to—”
“I can get back myself. It was a straight trip through those tunnels.”
My father glanced back toward the debris. “Chaser!” a new voice said over the radio. “Chaser, you there?”
“Mongrel?” my father said, flipping a switch and raising his radio. “I’m up on the surface.”
“You need to talk some sense into Banks and Swing. They’re saying we need to flee.”
My father cursed under his breath, flipping another switch on the radio. A voice came through. “—aren’t ready for a head- on fight yet. We’ll be ruined.”
“No,” another woman said. “We have to stand and fight.” A dozen voices started talking at once.
“Ironsides is right,” my father said into the line, and— remarkably—they all grew quiet.
“If we let them bomb Igneous, then we lose the Apparatus,” my father said. “We lose the manufactories. We lose everything. If we ever want to have a civilization again, a world again, we have to stand here!”
I waited quiet, breathless, hoping he would be too distracted to send me away. I trembled at the idea of a fight, but I still wanted to watch it.
“We fight,” the woman said.
“We fight,” said Mongrel, the man who had spoken earlier. I knew that name; he was my father’s wingmate. “Hot rocks, this is a good one. I’m going to beat you into the sky, Chaser! Just you watch how many I bring down!”
The man sounded eager, maybe a little too excited, to be heading into battle. I liked him immediately.
My father debated only a moment before pulling off his bracelet light-line and stuffing it into my hands. “Promise you’ll go back straightaway.”
“I promise.” “Don’t dally.” “I won’t.”
He raised his radio. “Yeah, Mongrel, we’ll see about that. I’m running for Alta now. Chaser out.”
He dashed across the dusty ground in the direction he’d pointed earlier. Then he stopped and turned back. He pulled off his pin and tossed it—like a glittering fragment of a star—to me before continuing his run toward the hidden base.
I, of course, immediately broke my promise. I climbed back into the crack but hid there and watched until I saw the starfighters leave Alta and streak toward the sky. I squinted and picked out the dark Krell ships swarming down toward them.
Finally, showing a rare moment of good judgment, I decided I’d better do what my father had told me. I used the light-line to lower myself into the cavern, where I recovered my backpack and headed into the tunnels. I figured if I hurried, I could get home in time to join my clan as we listened to the broadcast of the fight on our single, communal radio.
I was wrong, though. The hike was longer than I remembered, and I did manage to get lost. So I was wandering down there, imagining the glory of the awesome battle happening above, when my father famously broke ranks and fled from the enemy. His own flight shot him down in retribution. By the time I got back, the battle had been won, my father was gone.
And I’d been branded the daughter of a coward.
Excerpt copyright © 2018 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.