Read The Planet Thieves Online

Authors: Dan Krokos

The Planet Thieves

 

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.

 

To Suzie Townsend, for always making me better

 

Acknowledgments

I've wanted to write a book like this since I was a kid, and now here it is, one more dream fulfilled. I couldn't have done it without the help of Suzie Townsend, Joanna Volpe, Kathleen Ortiz, and Danielle Barthel at New Leaf Literary. Thank you to Whitney Ross and the incredible team at Tor. To Dana Kaye, Janet Reid, and Rachel Silberman.

Thank you to everyone at Benderspink and Heyday Films, including Christopher Cosmos, J.C. Spink, Chris Bender, Jake Weiner, David Heyman, and David Whitney. Thank you to Steve Younger, for giving me Dodgers tickets with preferred parking.

Thank you to my friends Adam “Complexity” Lastoria, Will “15 minute Salv/DE Epics” Lyle, Sean Ferrell, Jeff Somers, Barbara and Travis Poelle (and Char Char), Joe Volpe, Sarah Maas, Susan Dennard, Josh Bazell, Brooks Sherman, John Corey Whaley, Margaret Stohl, and Jesse Andrews. You guys are okay.

Special thanks to my old man, for getting me hooked on SF and Fantasy early.

And a final thanks to you for coming on this adventure with me. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

 

Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Illustration

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Illustration

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Illustration

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Illustration

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Illustration

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Illustration

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Illustration

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Illustration

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Also by Dan Krokos

About the Author

Copyright

 

Chapter One

The prank Mason Stark pulled on his sister was doomed from the beginning. For starters, he wasn't supposed to be on the bridge. Cadets age thirteen and under were forbidden from any section of the ship deemed
combat sensitive
. Which pretty much left the crew quarters, cafeteria, gym, and certain hallways as the only places they could roam. Sometimes Mason's sister, Lieutenant Commander Susan Stark, would tour the engineering decks with him, but that was it.

The pranks were a new thing, born from pure boredom. The last one, on fellow cadet Tom Renner, who Mason thought needed to experience what Academy I called
Humility in the Face of Glory,
had ended badly. Mason's lip was almost healed, but Tom's left eye was still mottled bruise-yellow.

In Mason's defense, there wasn't much for eighteen cadets to do on a ship that was mostly closed to them. Sure, when no one was looking they raced each other down the corridors, or held mock battles, but that got old. And Mason was sick of the crew sneering at the cadets or telling them to knock it off. Mason already had years of training, but was forced to imitate cargo just to log his required spacetime for the summer quarter.

Another reason his prank was doomed: Mason hadn't known that Captain Renner would call a code yellow in the middle of the night, from her personal quarters. Her voice booming through the ship had made him drop the final bolt he'd removed from Susan's chair. The bright white light on the bridge had changed to a pulsing yellow. Under normal circumstances, the bridge was under the computer's control between 0300 and 0600 hours. Now it would be fully staffed in a matter of minutes, a full hour before it should be.

Which of course made Mason wonder what could rouse the captain, and the ship, in the middle of the night.

Nothing good, he knew.

The last reason his prank was doomed: Susan was usually the first person on the bridge each morning. She liked to set up her engineering console and drink her morning synth-coffee, all while looking through the great transparent dome that separated the bridge from cold, empty space.

She was supposed to fall out of her chair by herself. No one was
supposed
to be watching. Afterward, she would laugh, maybe put Mason in a headlock and rub her knuckles over his head until it burned.

Instead, the officers rushed onto the bridge with pillow-marked faces, and Mason dived behind the pilot console at the front left of the dome. The best place to hide, really the only place. Though now he was as far away from the two exits as possible.

“How close is the Tremist ship?” Captain Renner said. Her usually tame brown hair was frizzy. Her eyes were a little puffy from sleep, but they still appeared hard and calculating, all-seeing. “How much time?”

A few feet from Mason, Ensign Chung tapped the perimeter console a few times. Mason could only see his back and a sliver of the hologram in front of him. “Previous course was parallel to ours, but they've drifted three hundred kilometers closer, Captain. Now only forty thousand kilometers away. Recommend code red.”

Crouched behind the desk-sized console, Mason broke out in a cold sweat, even though the bridge was a constant seventy-two degrees. Code reds only happened if a ship was expected to come in contact with the Tremist.
Direct
contact.

Of the Tremist, Mason knew one thing for certain, and two things not for certain.

The certain:

The Tremist were aliens bent on annihilating the human race.

The uncertain:

They had better technology and, depending on who you talked to, would probably win the war.

They were vampyres inside of human-shaped space suits that resembled armor worn by ancient knights of Earth. And they wanted to drink your blood. Since a fellow cadet named Mical said the Tremist were also shapeshifting werewolves, Mason doubted this was true.

Ensign Chung sucked in a breath. “They're putting on speed. Location thirty-five thousand klicks away, still closing. Captain?”

A good cadet would stand up, announce his presence, then walk himself to the brig and right into his holding cell. He didn't want to distract the crew, since it was very likely not everyone would survive the Tremist engagement—that was plain history. But fear held him behind the console. The vitals monitor built into his uniform vibrated against his forearm, a stupid reminder to keep his heart rate low.
You're too nervous,
the buzz told him helpfully. He clamped his palm on the mechanism to muffle it and hoped the crew didn't hear.

“Set a code red,” the captain said. The soft yellow light changed to a throbbing red. The transparent dome over the bridge stayed clear, but now angry red words and numbers began to scroll down the inside in all directions, the black of space as their background.

Mason pressed his face to the console. Lieutenant Hill was sitting there now, just a few feet of plastic and metal between them. Mason looked around the side with just his left eye. Susan was near the back of the dome, diagonal from him, at the console that linked the bridge to engineering.

Don't sit down,
Mason thought.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

Susan sat down in her chair. Which promptly slammed back and dumped her into a backward somersault. Her synth-coffee splashed everywhere, staining her uniform from shoulder to wrist.

All fifteen people on the bridge froze. Susan popped to her feet, blinking coffee from her eyes.


Distance?
” the captain demanded, forcing the crew's attention back to their screens.

“Now thirty thousand kilometers,” Ensign Chung said. “They're getting closer, but taking their time.”

Mason peeked from behind the console again. Somehow Susan knew his exact location and was already glaring at him from across the bridge. Her face was red, and not just from the strobing lights.

“Captain,” she said, tugging her uniform taut around her waist. It was the same uniform they all wore, Mason included—simple black pants, tall black boots, and a long-sleeved shirt, also black. Thin and tight, but able to keep a soldier warm or cool depending on the weather. The symbol of Earth Space Command, a small blue ring inside a silver ring, always went over the heart. Susan's uniform also had two blue circles on the neck to mark her rank. Mason had none.

“Yes?” the captain replied.

She never took her eyes off Mason, and Mason never moved.

“Permission to remove my brother from the bridge and escort him to the brig.” His prank had upset her, and worse,
distracted
her, at a moment when she would need all her wits. Some brother.

“Granted,” Captain Renner said, not once setting her steel-hard gaze upon Mason. The other officers, though, were sneaking disgusted glances. Any amount of respect the cadets had hoped to acquire this trip, Mason had just thrown away. “But make it fast,” the captain added.

Mason wasn't even scared about getting in trouble anymore. A code red kind of put things in perspective. Trying to stay calm, he reminded himself of the facts, because that's what a soldier did. Facts were calming, Instructor Bazell once told him.
Logic is a salve to the infection of fear,
she sometimes added. Whatever that meant. But it was worth a shot.

So, the facts:

The SS Egypt was the flagship of the fleet, the most important ship, even though it didn't carry an admiral. It was 745 meters long, almost half a mile, and shaped like a giant letter
H
. The left part of the
H
was a massive, continuous cylinder comprised of twenty levels where the crew lived and worked and went to jail if they embarrassed their sister in front of her fellow officers. The right side of the
H
—all 745 meters of it, a cylinder identical to the left side—held the engine they used to travel through normal space. The crossbar of the
H
connected the two cylinders, and right in the middle of the crossbar was the clear dome that covered the bridge. If you looked out the front of the dome, you could see the two cylinders of the Egypt jutting forward like twin gun barrels. Gun barrels the size of skyscrapers.

It was the SS Egypt
,
and she was ready for battle. The crew wasn't floating around in some weak civilian shuttle. If there was going to be a code red,
this
was the ship to be on.

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