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First pages

Prologue

The noise in the stadium faded from something akin to an old school rocket launch to subtle chatter. The concert had been over for twenty minutes, and most of the seats were empty, yet I was unwilling to let my best friend, Oshineah, drag me home.

“Oh my Universe! That was the best concert I’ve ever witnessed.” My post-concert adrenaline rushed from my toes to my fingertips. I couldn’t contain it, so I jumped up and down, shaking my hands and dancing on the spot. “The Female Asteroids are the best band ever!”

Oshineah grabbed me by the arm, forcing me to make my way out of the stadium. “I was more impressed with the holographic backdrop they designed. I never thought Mars could be so interesting.” Oshineah glanced at her Guardian Bracelet, checking the time. “Meteorites! Brix, we’re really late! The concert went longer than it was supposed to. We'd better head home before our parents think we’ve run off with some roadies.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said, smiling at a young man with dark hair and a face full of tattoos. He looked like he’d be fun.

“Come on, Brix!” Osh pulled at my arm again.

I lightly pushed her off. “Oshineah, why do you have to be so serious? We should take the time to revel in the beauty of this concert for a little longer. This was a life changing experience. I want to stay in this state of elation forever. What if I never feel like this again? Besides, I think I’m still a bit high.”

Oshineah giggled, hiding her blue-painted lips behind one hand. She’d been the one to bring the Jube-drops, and we’d both had two. The concert had come alive once we were under the influence. The backdrop had transformed the entire stadium into a red desert with soft fringed plants and gigantic mammals that looked something like a cross between elephants and giraffes. I had a feeling that those were just a figment of someone’s imagination, I just wasn’t sure whose at the moment. Jube-drops didn’t give me the clearest mind.

“I might be a bit high yet, too, but we still need to get home, Bright One,” Osh said.

Bright One was Oshineah’s nickname for me because I was always at the top of our class—well, I used to be, before, well, before things. Now, Oshineah called me Bright One because, for her, the jube-drops made me appear like I was glowing.

Oshineah grabbed me by the wrist and continued leading me out of the stadium. “Just wait one second,” I said, pulling free. I glanced down at my Guardian Bracelet. My GB was a black band that extended from my wrist almost to my elbow. Covering the surface of the bracelet was a touch screen along with tiny sensors, lights, and holo-chip pockets. My Guardian could store more music, pictures, videos, books, and information than I would ever need. A swipe of my finger over one of the sensors activated the camera’s holo-graphic recording function.

“Come on, Oshineah, say something memorable for my holo-video.” I looked at Osh. The recording would be made through my eyes, and when I watched it later it would be like I was still here, right in this moment. In a way, I wouldn’t have to leave.

Oshineah smiled widely and pumped her fist into the air. “The Female Asteroids rock! Tonight was the most amazing, wonderful, ecstatic night of my life. Friends forever.”

“Friends forever,” I echoed before stopping the recording and dropping my arm to my side.

“Now can we go? The A-Train will be here in five minutes.” Oshineah rushed ahead, leaving me no choice but to follow. Lights bobbed around me as I pressed through the crowd. I giggled as the lights danced, moving about in the most entertaining of ways: swirls here, spirals there. There was beauty everywhere.

Outside, the streets were filled with an eclectic assortment of Female Asteroid fans. Many fans wore tall boots, bright, loose clothing, and had their hair tattooed electric colors like Elli Post, the Female Asteroids’ lead singer. Universe, I wanted hair like that. I wanted to be bright and colorful and fun! I needed more fun in my life.

As we moved with the crowd heading toward the A-Train, I studied the people around us. Some people were smiling, a few were dancing, and some appeared to be floating on air. I laughed wildly. “Oshineah, look!” I pointed down the street to where a young man in a bear costume was juggling flaming torches. The fire sparkled, changing from orange to red to white and back again. The flames reached toward me, and then drew back toward the juggler. “It’s so pretty,” I said, reaching toward it.

“Come on,” Oshineah pulled more fiercely on my arm. “I think you’re more high than I am.”

I giggled as Oshineah led me to the train platform. We squeezed into a small space packed with post-concert commuters. I pressed against a good looking guy whose GB was playing The Female Astroids’ latest hit.

“I love this song,” I said, singing along. I shook my head to the music, letting my dark hair free. I lost myself to the music. The crowd shifted, momentarily throwing me off balance. I stopped dancing and turned, searching for Osh. I couldn’t see her anywhere.

“Oshineah? Osh?” I called, stretching onto my tip-toes and peering over the heads of the crowd. But the heads wouldn’t stay still. They bobbed and floated and kept getting in my way. I couldn’t see anything. It was all just fuzz. “Osh!”

“Excuse me,” someone said behind me. I turned and screamed. Behind me was woman with a melting face and long sharp fangs. I jumped away, stumbling through the crowd. “It’s just the drug. It’s just the drug,” I mumbled, because some part of me knew that this wasn’t real. The monsters weren’t real. This wasn’t happening. My heart raced. My skin grew cold. I turned my head wildly. Where was she? A mass of monsters with long faces and black orbs for eyes stared at me as I searched. Universe, they were getting closer.

“Osh? Osh?” My breath came more quickly. I looked down at the ground, keeping my eyes focused on my feet. “They aren’t real,” I muttered. But I couldn’t look at them. I wouldn’t. Because they were real. My body was telling me they were real. My body was telling me to run. The monsters stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking my view, blocking my exit. I twisted left and right, trying to get away, to get out, to find Osh.

“Watch out,” a monster growled. I jumped, my foot landed half on the ground and half in the air. I fell. The platform rose, towering above me like a giant’s table. I hit the ground.

Pain raced up my right arm.

“Hurry,” voices were saying above me. “Hurry.”

Why? Why hurry when the ground is so cold, so smooth? Why hurry when my arm hurts? It hurts so much and there are monsters up there. “No,” I whispered. “No.”

“Hurry!” Someone shouted, and I looked. I screamed. The monsters were coming.

“The train's coming!”

“Get out of the way!”

I looked up. Arms reached toward me, each ending with a long, clawed hand. Twisted, snarling faces stared at me. I stood up. I backed away. They were trying to trick me. My arm stabbed with pain. My heart ran forward, racing to its own rhythm.

“Stay away,” I called. I pressed myself into the wall on the far side of the track, holding my right arm. Why wouldn’t it stop hurting? “Stay away from me,” I called. They were shouting at me, all of them. They wanted me to move. They wanted me to go to them so they could hurt me.

“The train!”

A loud noise screamed down the track. I looked up. Lights on the platform flared, sending sparks through my vision: maroon, teal, and blood red. I looked away, to the left, and saw a great white fireball heading straight for me. The fireball exploded into a shower of sparks.

I closed my eyes tightly. On the backs of my eyelids, I still saw monsters.

Chapter One

The most spectacular and intimidating sight I'd ever seen was right in front of me. I pressed my face firmly against the cold, clear, smooth glass, and watched it approach: the moon Europa, my new home.

Sighing, I left the window and sat down on one of the comfortable red recliners that gave me a broad view of half the galaxy. This had become my favorite place during the three month journey across the solar system. The stars laid out before me were now only slightly smaller than the sun, which was a pinprick compared to how big it looked from Earth. I turned around at the sound of the door, and watched as Captain Levant entered the observation room.

“Hello Brix. I thought I might find you in here.” He nodded at me, looking sophisticated in his grey uniform. The cuffs and collar were ringed in gold, marking him as the captain.

“Good morning, Sir,” I said, trying not to sound grouchy or ungrateful. I hated him for being the one to keep me trapped in this ship. It wasn’t his fault Dad had sent me away. But he could have let me run away back on Earth. Or even on Mars. Instead, Captain Levant had made sure I was securely on board before every departure. He was going to make sure I made it to Europa, too—no matter what.

Captain Levant walked up to the large window, his back to me. He clasped his hands together, and looked out at the view of giant Jupiter, which glowed orange and yellow. It wasn't quite as bright as the sun—but it still provided us with most of our light—and it dominated the sky behind the icy, white moon of Europa. “Are you ready for the big day?” he asked.

“No,” I said, planning to leave it at that, but then thought better of it. I never used to be such a bitter person. “I mean, how can you be ready to start a new life if you don't want it? I haven't seen my aunt, uncle or cousins in over eight years. If it weren’t for holo-communications, I wouldn’t even recognize them. I have no idea what they're like, and they have no idea who I am. They probably don’t even want me. Dad… Dad must have offered them something pretty good for them to agree to take me on. To tell you the truth, I would pay anything for you to take me back to Earth. Last chance to take me up on the offer.”

Captain Levant smiled, near laughter. As he should. What could a sixteen-year-old girl afford to pay him? All the money I possessed had been firmly locked up when Dad discovered I'd been using drugs.

“I know it’s been a rough three months for you," the captain said. "And I’m not saying your immediate future will be any easier—I can’t imagine what it would be like to be shipped off to a colony to live with an aunt and uncle I barely knew—but I do know one thing, Brix, you're a strong, smart girl. If you set your mind to it, I’m sure Europa will become your home sooner than you expect. Out here—in space—there's a multitude of opportunity and experience. Things you would never get if you just stayed on Earth for your entire life. You won't get bored out here, I promise you that.”

Smiling meekly, I moved my gaze from Captain Levant to the symphony of stars outside. Bored. I'd heard that before. You're only using drugs because you're bored. “That’s what I am afraid of,” I said. “I don’t want Europa to become my home. I’m an Earth girl, I always will be. I love big cities and loud music. I don’t love the country.” Inside, I added all the other things I would miss: Oshineah, Cozmic Coffee, Brad and his gang off good-looking Holo-box gamers, Jube-drops. No matter how long I’d been off them, I still craved the high, the happiness they provided with a single bite.

Captain Levant appeared to be trying not to laugh. “Europa isn’t the backwoods; it’s the edge of adventure. This is the limit of human exploration. It’s the razor’s edge of science. You’ll have opportunity there you could never dream of on Earth. You should consider yourself lucky: your dad’s doing you a favor, and so are your aunt and uncle by taking you on.”

“My dad? Dad’s the one that shipped me off. Mom, she died in a lab accident.” Even after three years it was hard to say. And then there was all the stuff I left out: Dad didn’t know what to do with me, Jube-drops were the only thing that made me happy, I was almost killed by a train, Europa was the only option. “My dad isn’t doing me a favor, he’s doing one for himself.”

Captain Levant frowned. “I’m sorry you feel that way. But I’ve met your father. I don’t believe that’s true. But either way, Brix, after three months in space I’m sure you’ll be glad to get some solid ground under your feet. They have some beautiful orchards on Europa. It’s almost like being outdoors. Now, you should probably make a last check through your quarters. We’re almost there, and you wouldn’t want to leave anything behind on this ship. It’ll be half a year before we stop this way again.”

I nodded, a queasy, twisting sky-coaster swirling around in my stomach. “In a few minutes,” I said. “I just want to enjoy the ride for a little bit longer. I never saw the stars until I left Earth orbit. I think stars are the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”
Captain Levant gave me a single nod, then turned and walked back towards the door. “Well, you will have plenty of time to view the stars on Europa. Did you know they have the biggest, most powerful telescope in the Solar System?”

“Really?”

“Really. Now go pack your things. We’ll be docking on Europa in less than an hour.”

I left the observation room and walked through the narrow steel corridor to my room, near the middle of the ship. My heart twinged as I left the observation room for the last time. I’d miss the ship and its first class views of the stars, but I wouldn’t miss it as much as I missed Earth. My heart ached for Earth everyday. I missed the small, blue apartment I’d lived in with Dad. I missed my old school full of delinquents and over-achievers and jocks and artists and kids who didn’t even know I existed. I missed Osh. And even though she’d been gone for three years, I missed Mom. If she’d been alive, there was no way I’d be going to Europa. I wouldn’t be here, on the ship, beginning a new chapter, starting a new life with people I didn’t know. But I’d made a mistake. A mistake that had cost me everything, and Mom hadn’t been there to save me from Dad’s utter disapproval.

I reached my quarters and the door slid open with a quiet whoosh, recognizing me by the identity chip I’d stuck in my Guardian Bracelet when I’d first arrived on board. I stood in the doorway and stared at the reason why I hadn’t yet done any packing.

My room was a disaster.

Clothes were strewn around the room and my data-chips were scattered all over the shelves and tables. The messiest area of the room was my study corner. Book chips covered the surface of the small desk. Dirty plates and dishes, took up the free space remaining on the table; I hadn’t bothered to take them back to the cafeteria yet, afraid that the cook would make me put them into the sterilizer myself, after a sharp lecture. Holograms were being projected onto all of the walls, advertising concerts for my favorite bands: The Female Asteroids, Going to Titan, and Great Purple Nebula. Concerts I would never get to attend.

I knew we’d be landing on Europa in under an hour, at which time I needed to be packed and ready to go. I briefly contemplated taking out my trunks and neatly packing up. “Smog it,” I said instead, falling onto my narrow bed and using my Guardian to project a holo-recording of happier times.

The holo-video had been recorded almost four years ago, on a trip to the zoo. My hair had still been brown then, not the bright, electric green color it was now. My parents stood beside me, showering me in affection. I closed me eyes and tried to feel Mom beside me. But I felt nothing but the warm, stale air of the spaceship. It was too late. Mom was dead, Dad had exiled me, and I was about to start a new life far from everything I knew.

I pushed off of my bed and began sorting through my things. It wasn’t much, but I’d brought what I could. Hopefully, it would be enough to help me make it through the next two years. And if it wasn’t, there was always the secret compartment in the jewelry box Mom had given me on my tenth birthday.

The jewelry box was the first thing I put back into my luggage.

#

“Are you ready?” Captain Levant asked. He moved closer to the door control panel.

I stood beside him at the exit. I could see my reflection on the shiny metal panel. It was blurry, but I knew what it would be: average height, average build, brown eyes, and shocking green hair. If it wasn’t for the hair, I could be anyone. But I wasn’t just an average Earth girl anymore, I was a colonist. It was time to start living my new life—even if I didn’t want to. I took a deep breath, curling my fingers to keep them from shaking. “Sure,” I answered. “How bad could it be?”

“Well,” Captain Levant’s casual shrug didn’t do a thing for my confidence. “I should warn you; the colony tends to turn even the smallest event into a big party.”

“What do you mean?” I glanced over my shoulder at the twenty other members of the ship’s crew, hoping someone would explain. The crew looked back at me with smiles and a few winks. They were all waiting for their shore leave. They would only get a couple hours on Europa, but after three months in space, I could understand just how nice the idea of solid ground seemed. Our last shore leave had been on Ceres in the asteroid belt, home of the largest amminium mine in the solar system. We stopped there for two days in order to off-load and re-load with more amminium to take to the colony under development on Titan. The crew would head there next while I remained on Europa. Unfortunately.

“What I mean is that there’s a rather large welcoming committee waiting just outside these doors.” Captain Levant smiled. “So, are you ready?”

I took a deep breath. I loved parties, didn’t I? “Do I get to stay onboard the ship if I’m not?”

Captain Levant shook his head.

“All right then,” I said. “Let’s get it over with.” I tucked a string of electric green hair behind my ear and nodded at the captain.

He pressed his palm to the electronic reader. The door slid sideways, revealing a long, grey metal plank leading down into a large loading bay full of strangers.

I rolled my tongue along the roof of my mouth as I gazed at the people gathered for my arrival. A cacophony of faces stared up at me and cheered. So much for hoping people would just leave me alone while I spent two years in quiet exile. Someone had spent the morning setting up colorful holo-banners that showered down fake confetti. There were tables laden with food and vases filled with fresh flowers. The smell of the food hit me first; it was strange and foreign to smell something fresh after months of eating dried rations.

“Welcome to Europa, Brickney,” everyone suddenly chorused at once, loudly. My cheeks grew hot. A prod from behind sent me forward, down the plank and into my new world. All around me, the holo-banners flashed those same words: WELCOME TO EUROPA. WELCOME BRICKNEY. WELCOME. WELCOME. WELCOME.

I didn’t feel welcome.I felt like screaming. I felt like turning around, heading straight into the cockpit and piloting myself back to Earth. I felt like crying. I felt like dying.

“Brickney!” A young girl with curly, dirty-blonde hair ran toward me.

“Cadence,” I said, recognizing my young cousin from the last holo-transmission I’d received, which had been right before I’d left Earth. “Wow, you’re so tall. That really didn’t come across with the holos.”

The top of Cadence’s head came to my shoulders, even though she was five years younger than I was. Cadence’s blue eyes shone brightly. “You look different too. You have green hair. I wish I could have green hair, but my parents would never let me. But I’m so glad you’re here! I can’t wait to have someone in the house to hang out with. My brother’s so boring. He never wants to play my holo-games with me. He just wants to use his microscope or play moonball.”

“Hey cousin.” Wesley walked up slowly. Cadence glared at her brother. He had the same wild and curly hair, though Wes’s was a deep, chestnut brown. “How was the trip?” His hands were tucked casually into the pockets of his loose, black pants. He seemed normal, but not like the kids I’d hung out with back on Earth. Hadn’t Cadence just said something about him having a microscope? Yeah, he definitely wasn’t the type of person I usually hung out with.

“Wesley, hey. The trip was fine. It’s been a long time. You look so grown up.” The last time I’d seen my cousins was when they’d left Earth. Wes and I had been seven, and Cadence had been a cute, chubby toddler who was inseparable from her pink teddy bear. Wesley and I had been the same height then. Now he was at least a quarter of a meter taller than my 1.6 meters.

“I know, I must be what, a whole meter taller than when you last saw me? And please call me Wes, I dropped the ‘ley’ a long time ago.”

“Well you can just call me Brix, I dropped the ‘ney’ when my mom died.” I probably shouldn’t have said that. The awkwardness was palpable even though Mom had been dead for two years. My cousins didn’t seem to know what to say, and looked relieved when Aunt Dee stepped up.

My breath caught in my throat. Aunt Dee looked so much like her sister—my mother—that I thought I was seeing a ghost for a moment. I knew right then how painful it would be to look at my aunt everyday. Why had Dad sent me here? Sure, he was angry, but this kind of punishment was almost inhumane.

“Brickney, we’re glad you made it.” Dee gave me a tight hug before I had a chance to run. “How are you doing? I’m sorry I haven’t spoken to you in a week. Was the last leg of your journey okay?” Dee narrowed her blue eyes in concern.

I shrugged. “The trip was fine. The ship was boring. The crew was okay. I wish I was still on Earth, and you should call me Brix. I dropped the ‘ney’ a long time ago.”

Wes and Cadence shared a glance that told me I should probably adjust my tone. Dee and Jack had been kind enough to ‘take me in’, according to my father. He expected me to give them my respect. And maybe I should have been a little bit nicer—it wasn’t like like Dee and Jack had kidnapped me—but I was having a bit of trouble adjusting.

However, my tone didn’t seem to bother Dee in the slightest. “Brix. I like that. It has a nice ring to it. Welcome home. I hope the party isn’t too much. We’ll just introduce you to a few people. We can go back to the house whenever you’re ready.”

“Um, yeah. Sure,” I gave Dee a small smile. “Sounds great.”

“Everyone’s excited to meet you,” Jack said. He was a little rounder in the middle and had more grey hair than I remembered. He nodded at the crowd and the holo-banners, “People put a lot of effort into this party.”

“Yes, I can tell. It’s…” I wanted to be nice, but it really was too much. I had just wanted to arrive quietly, and take a bit of time to get used to everything. Instead, I was surrounded by chatting, laughing people. A lot of them were already making their way through the buffet, which was fine with me since my nerves had consumed my appetite. People continued to glance in my direction, but no one seemed to be in a rush to get to me. At least I could be glad for that, if nothing else. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”

“Well, don’t think about it too much,” Dee said, wrapping her arm around my shoulders. I was relieved to find that Aunt Dee felt and smelled very different than Mom had. Aunt Dee smelled like apples, whereas Mom had smelled like jasmine and lavender. Sometimes at night, I could still smell it, and I liked to think it meant her spirit had come to visit me. But I wasn’t even sure I believed in spirits. Sometimes, it felt like memories could come alive, maybe that was all it was.

“Welcome to Hemlin Colony Three,” Dee stood back, waving her arm outward at the steel docking bay. “Don’t worry, the rest of the colony has a lot more to look at. Come on up on the dais while I make the formal introductions. You don’t have to do anything, just smile and say hello. Then you can get to eating the food.” Dee led me over to a small, round platform. She stepped up and then lowered a hand to help me up beside her. The crowd noticed us take our place, and everyone quieted accordingly.

I swallowed. My mouth was dry. Universe, this was so embarrassing. Maybe I should have refused to let Captain Levant open the door. I really should have taken his warning about the party seriously.

“Hello everyone. I hope you’re all enjoying the celebration. I won’t keep you long, but I want to personally thank you all for coming out to greet my niece, Brix, upon her arrival to Europa. A man approached the platform and Dee moved aside to let him up.

“Thank you, Dee!” The man said. He was old, and of average height and build with grey hair. “Sorry for being late. I wanted to jump on stage here to award Brix,” the man turned and smiled at me, “With this certificate for becoming the Colony’s two thousandth and thirteenth member.”

The crowd cheered and the man handed me a small, square metallic plaque. It had my full name and the singular accomplishment written on the front. It was a nice gesture, and made me feel a little bit bad about not wanting to be on Europa at all.

“I’m Mayor Cordone, by the way,” the man said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The mayor stepped off the podium, and Dee stepped forward, indicating for me to say something.

“Hi,” I said, my voice was strangely amplified thanks to my aunt’s Guardian Bracelet. “Thank you for the warm welcome. I look forward to exploring my new surroundings.” I smiled like Dee asked, and then stepped back.

“Alright, that’s it for the formalities, now let’s get this party started.” As soon as the words were out of my aunt’s mouth, there was a sudden pop and a hiss and foamy streamers fell from the ceiling. I was covered in silky pink and white strands. I looked up at the crowd, horrified. Was that supposed to happen? Everyone was staring at me, laughing. A few people nearby had been caught in the mess of string as well. They were picking it off their clothing, also laughing. So I did the same, attempting a laugh. It must have been a prank. Then I spotted two boys my age in the crowd. The one with dark hair and broad face gave me the thumbs up. He slapped hands with the boy next to him, whose loose blonde hair hung in his eyes.

The culprits.

I’d have to find them later and thank them for their welcome.

Chapter Two

I cleaned up my outfit as best I could. Thankfully, nothing was ruined. The clothes were new ones I’d purchased with the last of my credits prior to leaving Earth. And they hadn’t been cheap. I’d heard there wasn’t a lot of shopping on Europa. As people began to mill about, I glanced at what they were wearing. Most people wore plain, navy-colored outfits that appeared to be some kind of uniform. A few people—younger kids especially—wore more individual, unique clothing, though it was unlike the styles I was used to. I saw a group of four girls wearing flowing pants fitted at the hips and billowing around the ankles. They wore long tunics in plain colors with detailed embroidery around the edges. A few people wore trendier Earth clothing, but those people were few and far between.

“Come on, Brix, there are a few people I’d like to introduce you to personally.” Dee guided me by the elbow away from the dais. She led the way from the spaceship and toward the tables covered in flowers, food and pre-sliced cake. As we moved closer to the crowd, my palms grew sweaty. The more I studied the colonists of Europa, the more I realized I stuck out like an asteroid on Earth. For starters, no one on Europa had bright green hair, and for the first time since I’d got my hair tattooed, I wondered if it had been a good idea.Though that wonder didn’t last long, I loved my hair, even if I was the only one with hair the color of a tree in spring.

Hair-tattoo or not, I was determined not to be the new kid, the weird kid, or the junkie. I was determined to be normal. I pulled my shoulders back and forced the corners of my mouth upward. If I could sit through the pain of getting a hair tattoo, then I could handle meeting the people of Europa. And I could handle two years on this colony. I could. Though my eighteenth birthday couldn’t come fast enough.

Dee stopped at our first colonists. “Brix, I would like you to meet Nurse Diane Frost and Nurse Melissa Charu. They both work at the hospital here on Europa. They’re good friends of mine. We do yoga together on Saturday morning. Maybe you would want to join us sometime.”

“Brickney, welcome,” said the woman Dee had introduced as Diane. She appeared to be in her mid-forties, with dark brown hair that was slowly turning grey. Beside her was a slightly younger woman, with ashen blonde hair. “Yes, come to yoga. We always have a few laughs.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, reaching out my hand. I’d had three months to prepare myself for this moment, but I still felt incredibly overwhelmed. This was my life now. But I would not be doing yoga. “Thanks for the invitation, but I’ll probably stick to my exer-box dance workouts.”

Nurse Charu shook her head. “I tried one of those dance workouts, my eight-year-old daughter loves them, but I can’t quite get the hang of it. I sprained my shoulder the last time I tried.” The women laughed and exchanged a few more pleasantries, though they mostly left me out of it.

“I hope you come to love Europa as we all do,” Diane said. She gave my shoulder a brief squeeze.

Melissa waved off Diane’s comments. “Of course Brickney will love Europa. There isn’t another bubble in the Universe as beautiful as Hemlin Colony Three. Though, you haven’t seen the real view yet.” The women laughed again as my stomach twisted about. Every time someone used my formal name it was like a hit to the head. On Earth, no one had used my long name in at least four years.

“I can’t wait,” I said, forcing that smile on my face. “But really, just call me Brix.”

Dee reached for my elbow again as I began to search the crowd for my cousins. Wes or Cadence might know a good place to hide. I couldn’t see them anywhere. Maybe they were already hiding and had forgotten to invite me.

“Thanks Melissa, Diane, I’m sure Brix will find life comfortable on Europa, though it will naturally take her a while to settle in. Anyway, I’m sure you’re hungry for some real food after your long journey,” Dee said to me. “Why don’t we go grab some food.”

“Of course,” Diane said. “We best be on our way as well. We’re still on the clock you know. Just down here to pick up the shipment for the hospital. Take care, Brickney.”

“Thanks, you too.” Relieved, I watched the nurses leave. They walked back to the ship I’d just departed. Maybe I could head that way too…


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

J.E. Hunter lives in Saskatchewan, Canada, and began writing as an excuse to stay inside during the cold winters. She is the author of the Black Depths Series, which consists of five books. Under Jupiter, her most recent title, explores life in the future, which has long been an interest of hers. When not writing, J. E. Hunter can be found reading, walking through spooky woods, drinking coffee, or listening to audiobooks at the gym.

Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover for this title is a shot of the main character, Brix, looking at her Guardian Bracelet. Her GB can project holograms and is kind of like a very advanced mobile phone. In her world, it's about all you need. In the background is Jupiter, a constant feature in Europa's sky.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I've always been very interested in science, and I often wonder what life will be like in the future. I would love to have a crystal ball show me the world in a hundred, a thousand, or even a million years. I would be too scared to actually travel into space, but that doesn't stop my imagination.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
If you like, you can find out more about me on my blog, at http://www.jehunter.com. I also have an Amazon Author page, and am active on Instagram @byjehunter. I enjoy blogging, and often post about the books I'm reading or the writing project I'm currently working on.

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