From #1 bestselling author Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson comes the second of three Skyward series novellas, set between Starsight and Cytonic.
"Don't trust their lies. Don't trust their false peace." That is the warning that Alanik of the planet ReDawn told the human pilot Spensa after Alanik's ship crash-landed on Detritus. While accepting an invitation to meet with her people's enemy, the Galactic Superiority, Alanik heard Spensa's cry for help across the vastness of space, and she used her cytonic powers to hyperjump her ship to the source of that cry. What she found there was a shock-a whole planet of free humans fighting against the Superiority. Could they be the allies her people desperately needed?
When she recovered from her injuries and met the friendly humans Jorgen and FM of Skyward Flight, she found that her warning to Spensa had gone unheeded by the government of Detritus, and they were considering a peace overture from the Superiority. Now having returned to ReDawn, Alanik is dismayed to learn that her own people are falling into the exact same trap.
The faction in ReDawn's government that wants to appease the Superiority has gained the upper hand. With Alanik's mentor Renakin captured, she has no one to turn to but Jorgen, FM, and their friend Rig. An ancient technology may have the power to save both of their planets from disaster, but can they discover its secrets before it's too late?
Release date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Print pages: 208
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Listen to a sample
I stood at the edge of a balcony on one of the branches of the Stadium tree, watching the games play out in the enormous hollow below. This particular tree had been chosen for its shape—branches reaching out horizontally and then curving up and inward like the sides of a massive vase, large enough that the spectators on the far side appeared to be nothing more than rows of rippling dots. Twelve ships soared across the widest part of the hollow, six painted Independence blue and the remaining in Unity yellow.
Dim light filtered through the red and purple miasma in the sky above the canopy, and enormous spotlights hung on cables from the branches above, illuminating the ships jetting about. Above the spotlights, just beneath the huge sweeping branches, a hologram enlarged the skirmish, and I watched as one of the Independence ships broke away from the pack, dodging a barrage of laser fire, and slipped through the hoop marking the goal.
Cheers rang through the stadium, and the mining corps that sponsored this match lit off a round of fireworks in Independence blue. With three goals so far, the Independence team was winning.
At least we were winning at something.
Beside me, Rinakin—my advisor in the cytonic training program—half-heartedly waved an Independence pennant: a twig with a blue fabric leaf attached at the top. While most in the stadium wore garments of yellow or blue, Rinakin dressed entirely in black, though at least his jacket had a blueish sheen. He was taller than me, and his skin had a slightly rosier tint to it, both traits that indicated his ancestors came from Reaching tree. In the days before ship travel, the denizens of each tree only intermixed when the trees bumped into each other across the miasma.
Now that Rinakin had lost his Council seat in the wave of Unity appointments, we were more or less equals—him as the leader of the Independence Party and me as a cytonic. That felt strange; he was many seasons older than me and much wiser, yet here we were, now essentially the same status even if I didn’t have his experience.
“It is good to have you home, Alanik,” Rinakin said. “I was worried about you.”
“It is good to be home,” I said. “Even if it means I failed.”
“Many of our people have failed between these branches,” Rinakin said.
That was true. I remembered a time when failing in the games had felt like a tragedy. The stakes here were personal—members of the winning teams of even the junior league championships could expect to secure top spots as transit and cargo pilots or appointments to the air force, not that ReDawn had seen actual combat for generations.
I’d skipped over all that when my cytonic powers had manifested—I’d jumped from the junior leagues straight to the upper echelons of the fighting corps. As one of only five living UrDail cytonics and the only capable teleporter, I was theoretically invaluable to my people’s survival.
Not that I’d done them much good during my last mission.
I sighed, leaning back against the wooden seat carved into the branch of the tree. The island trees floated in the miasma of ReDawn, their roots planted in large chunks of naturally occurring acclivity stone. The trees grew thick layers of bark, deep enough that entire rooms could be excavated beneath its surface without reaching the living parts of the tree near the base of the branches. Here, higher in the branches, one might be able to reach new wood by digging in six feet or so—plenty of room to carve smaller structures without harming the tree. This balcony and all of its seating had been meticulously carved into the bark, making it a part of the huge living stadium. It was good to be back beneath the familiar branches, but…
“I was supposed to bring back the secret to hyperdrive technology,” I said. “Instead, I gave the opportunity to the humans. They’ll try to make peace with the Superiority—make the same mistakes we have made.”
“Perhaps,” Rinakin said. “I’m more concerned that we will make the same mistakes we have made.”
Given the number of yellow pennants flying in the stadium, the fear was reasonable.
“Besides, we have information now,” Rinakin said. “Not the information you left to retrieve, but important information all the same.”
Much less important, in my mind, but Rinakin had a point. Many of my people believed the humans had been exterminated for their refusal to capitulate, for their stubborn insistence on fighting for freedom instead of assimilating into the Superiority. Humans were a cautionary tale, a justification for the appeasement policies that gave the Superiority more and more control over ReDawn.
If it became known that the humans were alive, that they had somehow managed to resist all this time—indeed, that they were beginning to break free from the Superiority’s forced imprisonment—it would be a huge blow to the Unity movement. A weakness I hoped we could exploit to drag some kind of success from my failure.
Which was why I wanted to keep the information from Unity for as long as possible. We needed to figure out how to use it before they did.
Below, the teams lined up for another bout. As per the rules, the Unity team would now appoint a new stringer—the ship whose job it was to cut across the battlefield and make it to the opposing team’s hoop without getting tagged by the lasers. Each pilot had to take a turn as a stringer until everyone had had a turn, or until the other team could no longer catch up in points. A team couldn’t rely on one strong player—the tree was only as healthy as its weakest branch.
Unity selected their stringer—Havakal, one of their strongest offensive players. Independence had started with their best players in the hopes of building momentum—it was easier to perform at your best when you already felt like you were winning. Unity had saved their better players for last.
“They’re hoping to prey on our overconfidence,” I said. “But the Independence team will know that’s what they’re doing.”
“Yes,” Rinakin said. “But it may still work.”
I looked around at the cloud of blue and yellow pennants waved by the thousands of spectators gathered on their balconies. The colors were about even, which should have been a comfort. But they hadn’t been even in the Council balancing, when Unity swept the Council seats, demolishing the Independence majority. I’d been gone for nineteen sleep cycles—missing the balancing entirely.
I’d left hoping to discover the secret that would free my people from Superiority control. If I had succeeded and returned before the balancing, the wind might have swept in our favor, but I’d returned with nothing, only to find us closer to bondage than ever.
I glanced over at Rinakin. He’d intimidated me at first, but though he expected a lot of me, he was never discouraging, only intense. In fact, there was an intensity about him even when he was relaxed. Rinakin wasn’t a cytonic himself, though he’d mentored most of the UrDail cytonics as we’d come into our powers.
The other cytonics were all working with Unity now. And because the Superiority designated us as “dangerous,” they’d agreed to use their cytonic abilities only under Council supervision.
We were dangerous to the Superiority. I would give them that.
Rinakin kept his focus on the hologram above. I’d attended games with him before, but when I’d been in training there had always been some lesson I was meant to learn, some larger goal.
Today we were here to keep up appearances. To prove I wasn’t hiding from the Council and their questions since my return four sleep cycles before.
Even though I was.
The private balcony did afford us an opportunity to talk out of earshot of others. That was a luxury on the populous trees of ReDawn. “At least people are still flying our flag,” I grumbled.
“Yes,” Rinakin said. “But most of them have forgotten this is more than a sport.”
“They remembered when they cast lots in the last Council balancing.”
“That too is a sport,” Rinakin said. “They vote for their team, and some switch sides when their current team is losing.”
He was right, depressing as that was. Even most of my own family had switched sides in the balancing, voting for Unity instead of Independence. “But that doesn’t make any sense. If enough people change their votes it causes the other team to lose.”
Rinakin’s bone ridges arched. “That’s politics,” he said.
It shouldn’t be. The decisions of the Council determined everything, and when the balance of representatives shifted, so did the policies. The current Council was a Unity majority, with only a few Independence delegates remaining, so Unity chose the delegates who negotiated trade agreements with the Superiority.
The Superiority set the terms, of course. The Superiority always set the terms. But at least when the Independents were in control of the Council, they didn’t grovel at the feet of the Superiority hoping to be treated like favored pets.
Unity scored, and the hologram switched to a series of messages from sponsors—a transportation company showing off the interior of their new luxury ships, and the vineyards on String with a new limited juice flavor they hoped we would try. At the end of the endorsements, a familiar face dominated the air at the center of the branches.
Nanalis, new Council President and Unity High Chancellor. Her booming voice addressed the crowd from the speakers built into the floors of the balconies.
“Greetings, citizens of ReDawn,” Nanalis said, her voice proud and confident.
“What is this?” I muttered to Rinakin. “Unity is taking out endorsements now? That’s not allowed, is it?”
“They’re supposed to give us equal time,” Rinakin said. “But the Council recently decided to waive that requirement so long as the message isn’t overtly political.”
I wasn’t sure Nanalis was capable of a message that wasn’t overtly political. She continued to speak—no doubt this message was prerecorded. Many Council members attended the games to see and be seen, but the Council President was often too busy.
Nanalis thanked the pilots for their hard work and preparation. “You represent the best of us, and it is because of you that our future is bright.”
I supposed it wasn’t out of line for the Council President to congratulate athletes. But then she went on.
“We call ourselves Unity and Independence, but we all enjoy the benefits of both freedom and peace. The real enemies are those who seek to divide ReDawn, who threaten our peace, who put the prosperity of all denizens in jeopardy.”
Unity was always calling us divisive for disagreeing, as if they weren’t doing the same by disagreeing with us. But of course, as they liked to say, the opposite of division was Unity. As if their choice of a name left us no other option but to fall in line with them. “She called us the enemy,” I said. “How exactly is that apolitical?”
“That’s why I argued against this in the last session,” Rinakin said. “Who is to determine what is ‘overt’ and what is not?”
As Nanalis made her final remarks, pennants waved all around the stadium, both blue and yellow. Everyone seemed to agree with her, Independence and Unity alike.
Everyone but us.
“Progress for ReDawn!” Nanalis declared. “May her enemies be swiftly silenced for the good of us all.”
Hairs rose on the back of my neck as voices sang out from all around the stadium, joining in a great rumbling chorus. They were cheering for pretty words that would destroy us.
Progress for ReDawn. It was what we all wanted, of course.
But some of us thought it mattered what we were progressing toward.
I knew which enemies she meant to swiftly silence. “I didn’t realize the miasma had gotten so thick,” I said.
Rinakin stared up at the hologram, which had cut away to feature the ships as they lined up for their next bout. “The wind has shifted,” Rinakin said. “I fear it grows more toxic all the time.”
The ships flew across the field for the next bout, but all I could see were the waving blue pennants, each one representing a person who should have been ready to fight for our planet, for our home, but was instead allied with Unity, who wanted to give it all away.
“I think we should leave the match now,” Rinakin said. “I don’t know how many will believe we are the enemy, but I would rather not be caught in the crowd.”
Cheers went up again, and yellow fireworks filled the air—Unity was gaining on us now.
I didn’t want to watch the match turn on us. “Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”
We stepped onto the stairs that wound down the branch, passing more private balconies and some larger ones crammed with families—children riding on parents’ shoulders, waving yellow flags. When we reached a crook in the branch we followed it down the stairs to the platforms around the trunk, descending beneath the playing field to Rinakin’s small transport ship, made of dark metal mined from the core of the planet.
I was still bitter about the loss of my own ship, which had been effectively stolen by the humans. I’d put in a request for another, but the order was taking time to process. Normally I would have been granted one instantly due to my status as a cytonic. But the Unity officials must have wanted something to hold over my head until I told them where I’d been and what I’d learned while I was gone. By law, they couldn’t force me. I would have been happy to report to the previous Council, but now I would be facing a room full of Unity officials with very few friendly faces.
I guessed they were growing tired of me putting them off.
I climbed into the copilot seat, preferring to sit beside Rinakin rather than on the cushier seats behind us. Rinakin flew us away from the Stadium tree through the purple and red swirls of gas in the miasma. Somewhere far below us was the core of the planet, noxious and uninhabitable, visited only by the mining corps in heavy protective gear. We were in a day cycle—and still a few sleep cycles away from the fall of night—so the ambient light was fairly bright.
We flew into the atmospheric bubble of Industry, one of the largest of the trees,
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