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Read the First 4 Chapters of The Final Six

Read the First 4 Chapters of The Final Six
Whether or not you’re already a fan of sci-fi, the simple pitch THE 100 meets THE MARTIAN should hopefully catch your attention. We mean, we’re already sci-fi fans, but if we weren’t, that 100% would have done the trick. And hey, don’t know where to start? Well, we think this is the perfect book for you! Welcome to the world of THE FINAL SIX.
This brand new novel from Alexandra Monir is set in a near-future where escape from Earth is becoming increasingly necessary. It centers around a competition where 24 teens from around the world are battling it out for one of 6 spots on a mission into space.
Start reading the first 4 chapters of THE FINAL SIX now to meet your fave new competitors—Leo and Naomi! But be warned, because things will not be easy for them.
 

ONE

LEO
Rome, Italy

A funny thing happens when you have nothing left to live for. Your existence loses all its sharp edges. There are no more steep drops, no hills to climb. Colors blur and muddle together until your surroundings are a bunch of meaningless shapes and figures painted in the same shade of gray. There’s nothing that could possibly surprise you or resurrect those old sensations of joy or fear. No human could be as unfeeling, as numb, as you are. And then, just when you’re getting lulled into the monotonous routine, something snaps. No more.
I hope I won’t be judged harshly for what I’m about to do. The truth is, I’m not sure I ever had a choice. This day has been beckoning me for a year—ever since the water rose up and swallowed our city. I’m supposed to be one of the “lucky ones” because I survived, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s nothing lucky about hearing the screams of the dead every time you close your eyes, or waking up each morning alone, forced to remember all over again. The horror never loosens its grip. It follows everywhere you move, breathing down your neck, whispering in your ear.
I glance up at the clock, the numbers blinking 4:35 a.m. It’s time to make my exit, before the neighbors wake up and spot me. But first, I let myself take one last look at home—or what remains of it.
The fourth floor of our pensione, once known as the Michelangelo Suite, is all that survived the flood. The high tide and storm swells pulled the first three floors under that day, sentencing everyone in those rooms to the worst kind of death. I should have gone down with them—I would have, if it hadn’t been for the couple in the Michelangelo Suite requesting room service, sending me to the top floor with a breakfast tray at the moment the waves crashed through the windows below. You could say those hungry guests and this room saved me, but why? Why should I have survived with a couple of strangers when my family was drowning?
My eyes linger on the remnants of them that I salvaged from the sea floor. Papà’s threadbare slippers sit on the ottoman beside Mamma’s Elena Ferrante novel, the corner of page 152 turned down to mark her place. The ink is smeared, the words running together like tears, yet I can still see that the page ends in an incomplete sentence. One more thing Mamma never got to finish.
Angelica beams at me from her last school photo, and I pick up the cracked silver frame from its shelf. I study my little sister’s bright eyes and dimpled smile one last time, memorizing her features. And then I take a breath and pull back the heavy sheet metal that covers the door, protecting against the tide.
This room once opened into a bright hallway lined with paintings, surrounding a stone staircase—but that was before La Grande Inondazione, the greatest flood Rome has ever known. Now the Tyrrhenian Sea laps at my doorstep, and when I venture outside, only a small wooden ledge separates me from the water.
In this new Rome, the only place to go is up. Each surviving structure has a ledge or makeshift dock like mine that connects to the passerelle: raised walkways far above the ground that lead us like a map to the places we need most. The upper stories of the basilica, hospital, and city hall; the Wi-Fi café; and even the public school’s remaining classrooms are all accessible from here. Of course, most of us stopped going to school after the flood. The Wi-Fi café is the most common gathering place for the survivors and where I’d ordinarily be heading myself in a few hours, to watch the news with my neighbors and listen to accounts of similar catastrophes wreaking havoc in other parts of the world. It’s our daily reminder that the Earth doesn’t hate us alone.
We’ve all seen the jarring photos of New York’s Times Square, its bright thoroughfares transformed into a deep river marked by the roofs of sagging Broadway theaters. We’ve followed the never-ending media reports about the curious case of our disappearing beaches, from America to Australia and beyond. The sea change is coming for everyone, rich and poor alike.
For those of us who want to travel across the Tyrrhenian, each of our docks houses a small wooden motorboat. It sounds like an easy out, right? Just hop in your boat and steer north toward Tuscany, leaving this sinking city behind. . . . Only it’s not so simple. The rising tides and rough waves make the hours-long trip a risky one, and those who do arrive in the Tuscany region find it an overcrowded mess. It’s not exactly an easy glide from there to the train station or airport, either. There’s a months-long waiting list to escape, and only those flush with euros can afford it. Even if you do manage to get out, who’s to say your new city or country of refuge won’t be the next one hit by the climate’s destructive sweep?
I wasn’t always a quitter. In the first months following the flood, I was like any other survivor, scrambling to stay alive. Some of my neighbors had a safety net—relatives from dry regions who could take them in, or bank accounts filled with savings to help them rebuild. Not me. There was nothing to do but wait for the EU Disaster Relief funds to trickle their way toward me, if they came at all. So I found my own way.
I knew there were treasures at the bottom of the sea, mementos my neighbors would pay a mint for, but none of them would venture into the water where so many of us drowned. Only I was hungry enough, desperate enough—and could survive the deep dives. I’d done it before without any breathing equipment, back in my competitive swimming days, only then I was just showing off for my teammates. Now, my skill could actually keep me alive. So I became a scavenger.
My first week, I unearthed Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno from the wreckage of the Vatican. It was so water-damaged that you could barely make out the Virgin Mary and child in the foreground, but I knew someone would see its value. I was right. The painting paid for a month of my meals. And in my second week I found a purse of commemorative coins from 2004, their emblem featuring the centenary of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. They were worth only five euros each, but being collector’s items, I was able to fetch double. I kept going, scavenging and selling as each day bled into the next—until I found the true riches, curled up together in a bed of algae.
Papà’s slippers, Mamma’s book, and Angelica’s photograph were all right there, waiting for me. It had to be more than a coincidence that these three small relics managed to stay entwined. It was a sign. And in that moment, with my sister’s face staring up at me, I realized just what I’d been doing: ransacking and profiting from the dead. The guilt replaced the hunger in my stomach, and I promised myself I would never do it again.
Since then, all I’ve wanted to do is join them.
I strap my heavy backpack over my shoulders and open the door, stepping out onto the ledge of the pensione. The cold water rushes at my feet, the dark sky closing in around me. And then I jump.
The murky water rises to my neck. I could just let myself go, right here . . . but I can’t do it in front of my home. Instead I begin to swim, persisting against the weight of my backpack as I head for the deeper center, where the half-sunken Colosseum rests in the middle of the waves. The words of a Lord Byron poem I learned in school echo in my mind as I swim, making my way closer and closer to the ruins.

While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
And when Rome falls—the World.

I grasp one of the arches of the Colosseum and rest my forehead against the stone in a silent good-bye. And then I let go—slipping my head underwater, relaxing my body like a limp rag. I let myself fall.
The disgusting taste of seawater fills my mouth, threatening to choke me if I don’t drown first. I can hear the waves crashing overhead, feel the tide beginning to perform its job, pulling me down, down, down.
My adrenaline briefly spikes, and I could swear I hear Angelica’s voice snapping in my ear: “Swim, you idiot! Swim!” But I squeeze my eyes shut, ignoring every physical instinct that begs me to move, letting the water snatch me instead.
If you saw me now, you wouldn’t believe the swimmer and athlete I used to be. The truth is, I could propel myself up to the surface in a matter of seconds if I wanted to. But that’s the problem. I don’t want to.
My thoughts are bleeding together now, playing a strange, jumbled movie just for me. Sleep is coming; I can feel it. And then—
An engine roars. Ripples form in the water overhead.
I know that sound. It’s a—a boat.
I should just keep my eyes closed and let the fog of my drowsiness pull me further toward the brink. But my mind is still half-awake, warning me that the presence of a boat means something is amiss. No vehicles are allowed to cross the water outside of daylight hours, one of the many new rules enforced since La Grande Inondazione. Of course, the coast guard always has the option of sidestepping this rule—if they spot someone in danger.
And just like that, the haze before my eyes disappears. Consciousness returns, the death wish replaced by something else—shame. I know I can’t let this innocent coast guard jump into the deep sea and do battle with the tide just to save me. That can’t be my final act.
I spit the water out of my mouth and hold my breath, wriggling free of the backpack and pushing my body up, up. My limp arms and legs are swinging back to life as I finally listen to my kid sister. Swim.
My head hits the surface. Air—sweet, beautiful air—fills my lungs, and I gasp, clinging to it.
The hum of the motor comes closer, and I rise up, waving my arms.
“I’m here!” I try to shout, though my voice has gone ragged and barely makes a sound. “Don’t jump!”
But as the boat glides into view, my mouth falls open. It’s not a coast guard boat. It’s a sleek catamaran, with painted blue lettering on the side revealing a familiar logo: European Space Agency.
What is ESA doing here, of all places? Why now?
A man and woman stand at the bow of the vessel, wearing matching expressions of fierce concentration as they scan the surroundings. The woman is dressed in the dark blue uniform of the Italian military, the man in a business suit with an ESA shirt beneath the blazer. Thankfully, neither of them seems to notice me.
I didn’t think anything could surprise me anymore, but it turns out I was wrong. Instead of sinking to the bottom of the sea, I am now swimming in the boat’s wake. Whatever ESA is doing here in our wreckage of a city, it must be something big—and I don’t want to miss it.
I keep pace with the boat, my breaststroke getting me through the last stretch of choppy water until we reach the makeshift docks. I can see my dilapidated home now, the Pensione Danieli sign still hanging hopefully from the roof. And then, as the first rays of morning light filter through the sky, the boat turns toward Palazzo Senatorio, our city hall. Waiting on the front stoop that juts above the water is Prime Minister Vincenti with his wife, Francesca, and their daughter, Elena—my sister’s best friend.
I duck back underwater, holding my breath as the boat docks. I can’t let any of them see me. Lord knows how I would answer their questions.
After what feels like an eternity, I splash back up to the surface. The prime minister and his wife have disappeared inside, along with the two from ESA—but Elena is still there, angling a camera in front of the space agency boat. As I lift my head above the water, a flash of light sparks before my eyes. I blink rapidly, watching as Elena does a double take. Shit. I’ve been caught in the photo.
“Leo?” She rushes to the dock’s edge. “What are you doing?”
I could make up a story—I could tell her I just felt like taking a crack-of-dawn swim. But no one would believe it in these treacherous waters, and I’ve never been a good liar anyway. My shame, the step I came this close to taking, will be written all over my face.
“Ciao, Elena,” I call back, trying to make my voice as normal as possible. “It’s . . . a long story. Nothing im­portant.”
She gives me a sideways look, and I know there’s no getting away from her now. I might as well have this inevitable conversation on dry ground.
I swim forward, closing the distance between us, and then grip the bottom of the wooden dock, mustering my strength to pull myself up and over the edge. I land on shaky legs, my soaking clothes forming a puddle around me. Elena raises an eyebrow.
“At least you remembered to take off your shoes before you jumped in. Why not drop the clothes, too?” Two pink spots appear in her cheeks. “That came out wrong, I meant—um, let me get you something to dry off with. Wait here.”
“Thanks.” I avoid her eyes but not out of embarrassment. I can’t look at Elena without seeing the empty space where my sister should be. And now I wish I’d never followed that stupid boat, that I’d never ended up here.
Suddenly, a thunder of footsteps descends on the elevated walkway, accompanied by raised voices. I crane my neck to look. My neighbors are awake far earlier than they should be—and they’re heading straight for the top-floor entrance to Palazzo Senatorio.
This day just keeps getting stranger.
Elena returns with a large overcoat, and I drape it over my drenched clothes. I can hear the beginnings of a question forming on her lips, but I interrupt her.
“What’s going on? Who were those people in the ESA boat, and what are they doing in Rome?”
Elena stares at me. “Do you really not know?”
“Apparently not.”
“It’s the calling of the draft. The Twenty-Four are being announced today!”
“The Twenty-Four?” I repeat. The words are familiar, like a long-forgotten taste on my tongue. My mind rushes back in time, before the sinking of Rome, before I lost everything. And then—
“Europa.”
Elena nods, a slight smile lighting her features.
The memories feel like snippets from another life. I can remember sitting around the TV with Angelica and our parents, the four of us glued to the live United Nations press conference, where world leaders declared a state of war between humanity and our environment. I remember the government official showing up at our door with the Europa Mission & Draft pamphlets, outlining a plan to deploy young astronauts to build a new home on Jupiter’s most promising moon, Europa. Then came the strangers, infiltrating our school the following week—“scouts,” they were called—who studied us in their search for the perfect teenage candidates for the Europa Draft. Because, as the scientists said on TV, “Only the young can tolerate the radiation-resistant bacteria that will enable humans to thrive in the current conditions on Jupiter’s moon. Only the young will still be fertile and able to procreate on Europa by the time it is terraformed and ready for a full human settlement.”
Those heady days are a blur, like a dream washed away by the flood. I guess I never thought they would actually go through with the whole extravagant idea.
I turn back to Elena. “So you’re saying they already picked the finalists? But why wouldn’t ESA and NASA just announce the names online? Why come all the way—”
I stop short, the realization practically knocking the wind out of me. “One of the finalists is from Rome?”
“Yes! Thrilling, isn’t it? Unless it’s me—then I’ll have a heart attack.” Elena shivers. “They’re going to announce who it is in a live-streaming press conference at five thirty.”
“Are you serious? We have to get inside!”
I break into a run, ignoring Elena’s protests that I can’t enter the Palazzo barefoot and dripping wet. There’s no way I’m missing this, not when one of my friends or neighbors is about to be named a finalist to go to Jupiter’s moon. I can just see my father pumping his fists in pride that a Roman was chosen, while my mother would clap her hand over her mouth in her usual dramatic way, torn between the excitement of it all and pain for the parents left behind.
The city hall’s portico entrance sank in the Great Flood along with its lower floors, so I run straight from the dock up to the covered arcade that leads into the piano nobile, the new main floor. Inside, the old masters on the walls are caked in a coat of film from water damage, while the elaborate painted ceilings are marred with cracks. But the old hum of activity remains, and I follow the sound of voices into the Neo-Gothic Salon, a large foyer still standing with the support of its marble columns. A glass chandelier swings tenuously from the ceiling, a shaky vestige of the pre-flood days.
Filling nearly every square inch of the room are fellow survivors: “the Last Romans,” as they call us in the media. Everyone watches, rapt, as the Italian military officer and her companion from the ESA boat approach the podium at the front of the room, flanked by the prime minister and his wife. A trio of cameramen stand in position nearby, their equipment at the ready. My heartbeat quickens.
“I should go join my parents, but let’s talk later, okay? You still need to tell me what you were doing when I found you.” Elena’s voice over my shoulder catches me off guard. I’d almost forgotten she was still here, eyeing me as water drips from my clothes onto the floor.
“Okay,” I reply with a nod, though I’m banking on ESA’s announcement detracting from any attention on me. “Thanks, Elena.”
“Buongiorno.” Prime Minister Vincenti steps up to the microphone, his voice booming across the room. “Thank you for joining us this morning, on a day that is certain to bring pride back to Rome. I can see you are all as eager as I am to hear the news, so I won’t keep you waiting. Please welcome Sergeant Clea Rossi of the Italian Armed Forces, and Dr. Hans Schroder, from the European Space Agency.”
As the crowd applauds, I squeeze into a space in the very back of the room.
Dr. Schroder steps forward. “Thank you, Prime Minister, and all of you here today. It is a great pleasure for me to be in Rome. I thought I might never get to experience your city again in my lifetime.”
The crowd quiets. We all know what he means. Our homeland is growing extinct, following in the ancient footsteps of Baiae—the first Italian city to go underwater.
“As you know, the Europa Mission is the most pressing item on our planet’s agenda,” he begins. “Our chance to terraform and colonize Jupiter’s moon can’t come soon enough. So with that said, after more than a year of scouting and reviewing countless medical and academic records, I am delighted to announce that we have selected our Twenty-Four finalists. These teenagers will spend the next four months at International Space Training Camp in America, at the end of which a final team of six will be drafted and deployed to Europa.” Dr. Schroder pauses. “And, yes. Our Twenty-Four includes one of you.”
The room fills with a mix of whoops, cheers, and nervous laughter. I scan the neighbors to my left and right, wondering about each one of them: Could it be you?
“Sergeant Rossi, would you like to do the honors?”
Dr. Schroder steps back, giving Sergeant Rossi the podium.
She clears her throat, then looks out over her audience. “The finalist from Rome, who will depart on Monday for Space Training Camp, was chosen for their remarkable survival skills, as well as a singular ability that should prove crucial for the Europa Mission.”
I hold my breath, trying to comprehend the idea of one of my own friends or neighbors leaving for America in just two days—and possibly leaving the planet altogether. I keep my eyes on the crowd, anxious to catch the first reaction of whoever is chosen.
“Your finalist from Rome is . . .”
The energy in the room thickens as we all lean forward, bracing for the name.
“Leonardo Danieli.”
Wait.
No—that can’t be right.
That’s my name.
“He’s right there!” a voice shouts.
More than a hundred heads swivel in my direction. The cameramen come running from the front of the room, their lenses trained on me. Standing between her parents, Elena lets out a sound somewhere between a moan and a shriek.
They chose . . . me.
One of the cameramen thrusts a microphone under my nose. “Leonardo Danieli, what is going through your mind right now? Shock, fear, excitement?”
I was supposed to die today. But I didn’t. If I’d gone through with it, if I hadn’t heard the boat and snapped out of it . . .

“I—I never imagined this was coming.” My words tumble out, echoing across the silent room. “And I’m glad—so glad—I didn’t miss it.”

TWO

NAOMI
Los Angeles, California

“This is a joke, right?”

I stare at each of the adults filling the principal’s office, waiting for one of them to crack. Whaddya get when you mix a high school junior, two bewildered parents, one NASA rocket scientist, a gun-toting US Army official, and the school principal?

“Naomi,” the woman from NASA begins, saying my name delicately, as though it might break. “It’s not a joke. In fact, you should be very proud. Each member of the Twenty-Four was chosen for a particular skill set or trait that we need for the mission. You were chosen for your brilliant mind and scientific ability. If you make the Final Six, you’ll have a vital part to play.”

My parents clutch each other’s hands. Mom lets out a sob, and a fist tightens around my heart. There’s no way, no way this could be happening—but the grave faces across from me confirm the worst.

“You’re telling me I’ve been drafted?” My voice is whisper thin.

The army officer, Major Lewis, nods. “Yes, though currently your only duty is to International Space Training Camp. The Europa draft won’t be decided until the completion of training camp, at which point you will either be cut and sent back home, or—”

“Or I’ll be deployed to Europa,” I finish his sentence. “For good.”

The room turns silent, except for the sound of my mother crying. I push out of my seat and to her side, wrapping my arms around her as I wonder how many more times I’ll get to do this. How long will it be before I forget what it feels like to hug my mom and dad, before I forget the sound of my brother’s voice?

“You can’t do this.” I raise my eyes pleadingly to the figures looming before us. “If you know as much about me as you say, then you know I have a little brother who needs me. You can’t just split up our family and send me away!”

“Sweetie,” my dad murmurs, his voice breaking. “It’s a draft. That means they can do exactly that.”

“The reality here is that we are at war,” Major Lewis says, eyeing me with a frown. “We’re at war with our own environment, and the fact that you are among the few with a chance to escape makes you one of the lucky ones.”

O-kaaay. I didn’t realize getting kicked off Earth was something to be grateful for.

But before I can retort, Mom speaks up, taking my hand in hers. “Please don’t misunderstand my tears, Naomi. Yes, my heart is broken at the thought of separating from you, but I’m . . . I’m thankful that you’re getting another chance.” She looks into my eyes. “I honestly don’t know how much longer we can go on like this. We’ve already been evacuated from three different homes in less than two years—who knows where we’ll be tomorrow? And you know how worried I’ve been about you losing so much weight from the rationing. We’re living in quicksand, and if anyone can be saved from this fate—well, I want it to be you.”

She believes in it. My mouth falls open at the realization that my mother actually believes the hype, that the Final Six can possibly survive this pipe dream of a mission. And even if they—we?—managed to achieve the incredible, I’d choose dying with my family over living with five strangers on Jupiter’s moon any day.

But as I look at the hope written across my parents’ faces, I let my protests die on my lips. Instead, I turn to the NASA scientist, Dr. Anderson. “You say the trip includes a flyby to Mars to pick up the unused supplies from the Athena mission and get a gravity assist to Jupiter, right? Well, how do we know this mission won’t result in the same outcome as the Athena? How do you know we all won’t end up . . .” I don’t bother finishing my sentence. They know the word I’m looking for. Dead.

“It’s simple: Mars was always a gamble—the crew of the Athena knew there was a good chance the planet would prove uninhabitable. But the tragedy caused us to take a closer look at Europa, which was revealed in our robotic missions to have the key ingredients needed to build a new Earth,” Dr. Anderson explains. “Where Mars lacked a viable source of water and oxygen, Europa’s wealth of oceans gives us access to both through water electrolysis. And unlike the Athena mission, the Final Six won’t be spending any time on Martian surface. The spacecraft will manually retrieve the Athena crew’s cache of supplies, and then use a booster to slingshot from Mars’s orbit to Jupiter. None of you will be exposed to Mars’s atmosphere.”

I can tell by the way my parents are gaping at Dr. Anderson, they’re trying to comprehend the idea of their daughter zipping from one planet to another. But I’m not done with my questions.

“And . . . what about the supposed intelligent life on Europa?”

Dr. Anderson and Major Lewis exchange a smirk. “That’s just the Space Conspirator and other questionable websites drumming up tabloid fodder. We’ve found no evidence whatsoever of existing life on Europa. You have nothing to worry about.”

I nod, though I’m hardly reassured. Something about her reply feels canned, the way an actress might sound after reciting the same lines twenty times in a row. But I know better than to push it.

Principal Hamilton has remained quiet ever since the announcement, but now she joins the conversation, gesturing to the window. “There’s a crowd forming out there—it looks like the press. Is this why I was asked to call an assembly? Are we going public with the news about Naomi?”

No. Not yet. I shrink back against the couch, wishing I could blend into the upholstery and disappear. But at the principal’s words, Major Lewis and Dr. Anderson spring into action.

“Let’s get Naomi to the auditorium first before letting anyone in. The two of us will remain beside her throughout the press conference and—”

I break in, interrupting the major. “Why? Why do all these people have to know now?”

If there’s any hope of me dodging this draft, it certainly won’t happen with my name and face splashed across the media. The second I am revealed to the world as one of the Twenty-Four, I become theirs—theirs to experiment with, to make into a soldier, to send to another galaxy.

“We have no choice,” Dr. Anderson replies. “As a government agency, NASA is required to report all news to the public within twenty-four hours, and the fact that the draft is a wartime mandate means an even stricter standard of transparency. We were able to hold your name back just long enough to give you this advance notice.” She turns to the principal. “Do you know if the videoconference screens in the auditorium have been set up and connected to Houston yet?”

As Principal Hamilton darts behind her computer and begins clacking away at the keys, I’m tempted to shove everything off her desk, to send the computer crashing to the floor in my frustration. “Looks like we’re a go,” she says.

Terror bubbles in my chest. I look from the door to the window and back again, but there’s no chance of escape. Even if I did manage to outrun all the adults in this room and get away, it’s not like I could ever get my old life back—not as a draft dodger. I have no choice but to comply, and say good-bye . . . to everyone and everything I’ve ever known.

I rise to my feet, a prisoner resigned to walking the plank. “So what happens now?”

Major Lewis cracks a smile. “You’re about to become one of the twenty-four most famous teenagers on Earth.”

I wait behind the curtain of Burbank High School’s dust-
covered stage, flanked by the security guard sworn to “never leave my side” until I’m safely transferred to Space Training Camp. The pounding in my chest and the sweat dampening my brow reminds me of the last time I stood here in the wings, before the drama club’s production of Fiddler on the Roof in my freshman year. I had only two solo lines (“Tradition, tradition!”) but I was more terrified than the leads. That was my first clue that I belong in the classroom, in the science lab, behind a telescope—but never, ever on a stage.

That was the last time most of us set foot in this auditorium. After another season of El Niño superstorms raged through LA, tearing the beach cities to shreds and forcing all surviving Angelenos to decamp to the Valley, the school pretty much dropped all extracurriculars. They had bigger things to worry about than drama club and sports—like our survival, and how to accommodate an influx of displaced students, known to us as the West Side Exiles.

I step forward, peering through a slit in the curtains. I can see my classmates and teachers filing into the rows of seats, while giant projection screens unfurl onto all four walls.

“I should warn you that I might throw up,” I mutter to the guard beside me. “Why do they have to make such a spectacle out of this announcement, anyway?”

I don’t expect an answer, but the guard, Thompson, speaks up. “I imagine it’s because the Europa Mission is the one source of distraction and excitement for the public right now. And the greater the public interest, the more bargaining power the space agencies have to lobby Congress for extra funds to send you safely up there.”

He gives me a wink that is meant to be reassuring but instead ties my stomach in knots. This is the problem with being a science nerd—I can’t share in the public’s hope for this mission. I know too much. I know the laundry list of things that can—and invariably will—go wrong.

Just then, through a break in the curtains, I spot the face I love most. My little brother, Sam, is sliding into a seat beside our parents in the front row. He glances from the stage to the surrounding screens, his expression agitated. My heart seizes at the sight.

Even though he’s two years younger, looking at Sam often feels like gazing into a mirror. We share the same dark hair, olive skin, and Persian eyes, the same high cheekbones and dimpled smiles. Of course, neither of us is smiling now. We’ve been attached at the hip since he was born, and now . . . now they’re untethering us. Tears prick at my eyes, but before I can give in to them, I hear the sound of high heels clicking across the foot of the stage, and a hush comes over the room.

“You might have guessed the reason behind today’s assembly,” comes the sound of Dr. Anderson’s voice. “Well, the rumors are true. We are thrilled to introduce you to Burbank High School’s very own finalist in the Twenty-Four, one of just two Americans chosen: Miss Naomi Ardalan!”

The curtain rises, revealing me standing there in a daze, blinking under the glare of the spotlight. As the room explodes with flashing cameras, cries of shock, and smatterings of applause, I meet my brother’s eyes, trying to convey a silent message to him. I’m sorry, Sam. My brain was supposed to find a cure, to heal you—it wasn’t supposed to get me taken away from you. I’m sorry things got so royally messed up. But it isn’t over yet.

“That’s not all!” Dr. Anderson’s voice rises an octave in her enthusiasm. “Today, twenty-three other teenagers around the world received the same extraordinary news as Naomi. Thanks to NASA’s supercomputer, Pleidas, we are able to videoconference with all twenty-four finalists and introduce them to each other, and to you—right here and now.”

My head snaps up. The sound of static echoes through the room, and then all noise fades away as the blank projection screens surrounding us fill with color—with faces.

I can hardly breathe as I gaze at the twenty-three strangers who will become my new, forced family. Dr. Anderson and Major Lewis take turns rattling off their names and countries one by one, as if this is the Olympics instead of a draft into space.

The finalists all look about my age, but that is the only feature we share. We are a mix of skin and eye colors, a blend of hair textures and body types. As I look from one face to another, I find that a few are fighting back tears or gulping in panic like me—but then there are the others, the majority, who smile broadly and wave with excitement. Which of us will prove to be right?

“Last but not least, from Rome, Italy, we have Leonardo Danieli.”

I turn around, my eyes falling on the screen behind me. A boy with golden-brown hair and bright blue eyes is beaming in wonder. For some reason, the sight of his optimistic smile causes something to break inside me. You don’t know . . . you don’t know what we’re in for. We’re not victors; we’re goners.

With my back to the crowd, I bury my face in my palms, letting the tears escape down my cheeks. I only need twenty seconds to cry—a trick I learned when Sam got sick. I’ve always been his cheerleader, his strength, and I never wanted him to see my fear. But sometimes when I watched my brother hooked up to machines, when I heard the faint sound of his irregular heartbeat through the hospital room monitors—I couldn’t help it. I had to turn away, to give in to the feeling of my insides being ripped apart. But only for twenty seconds. That was how long I could let down my guard without Sam noticing. It’s a skill that comes in handy now, with so many eyes on me.

When I regain my composure and glance up, I get a shock. The Italian finalist, Leonardo, is watching me, his expression kind. He presses his hand up to the screen, his mouth forming a word. “Hi.”

I take a step closer to the screen and raise my own palm, returning his greeting. His eyes lock with mine, and for a moment, I forget where I am, what this is—until Dr. Anderson resumes her speech.

“The twenty-four of you will get to spend this weekend with your families, in the privacy of your homes. Monday morning, your duties officially begin. You will be flown by private charter to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for four months of training camp, after which time six of you will move forward. . . .”

I turn away from the Italian finalist, back to the audience—to my brother. His head is bent, his fist against his chest . . . as though someone has died.

But I’m not dead yet. And I can’t leave my brother alone to grieve for real.

Something in me shakes loose. As Dr. Anderson continues speaking into the microphone, I back away slowly, until I am nearly backstage. And then I break into a run.

The guard has me in his clutches before I get more than a few steps from the stage, but I don’t care. That millisecond of freedom reminded me of something.

I may not be able to dodge the draft, but if I play my hand correctly . . . I can get cut well before the Final Six is deployed to Europa. All I have to do is stay focused, and let nothing—no one—distract from my purpose.

The others can be the heroes, the space pioneers. I have something more important.

Home.

THREE

LEO

I snap out of a dream as the video screens mounted to the media room walls fade to black. Two dozen people I never knew existed, whose paths should never have crossed with mine, are about to become my entire world. And if I’m lucky, if I make the final draft . . . I will be tied to five of these strangers for life. The thought sends goose bumps prickling across my skin, and I’m hungry to learn everything there is to know about these twenty-three. I try to recall their faces, but even now, moments after the screens turned dark, I can only remember two: the girl with the deep brown eyes, who looked so sad in our moment of triumph—and the pale-haired boy who jumped in the air at the news, whooping with pride. It was the kind of unbridled reaction I might have had if I weren’t still in a state of shock.
Prime Minister Vincenti opens the door, stepping into the room where I’ve been sequestered with Dr. Schroder since just after the news broke.
“Leo, security is still trying to contain the crowd, but the public is demanding another look at you. Would you be willing to go back out there and just . . . smile at the cameras for a few minutes?”
“What?” I stare at the prime minister, wondering if I heard him correctly. “But most of those people already know me. They’ve probably seen me cross the passerelle hundreds of times. Why—”
“That was before,” he interrupts. “You may look the same and feel the same, but you’re someone different now. After today, you’re no longer just another neighbor or survivor—you’re a legend in the making.”
And as he speaks, I can hear their voices, growing louder as their chants carry toward our closed door.
“Leo, Leo, forza, Leo! L’italia é fiera di te!”
Emotion swells in my chest. It seems unthinkable that they’re cheering for me, of all people—the same me who came so close to throwing my life away in the sea.
But I didn’t, I remind myself. I’m still here, and somehow, I earned a place among the Twenty-Four. And I won’t let this second chance go. I’ll be worthy of it; I’ll make my country proud.
“Okay,” I tell the prime minister. “I want to see them.”
A security guard posted at the door springs into action as we step out of the media room. He leads the three of us into the marble hallway and toward the noise, his eyes darting over to me every few seconds, as though I’m the VIP to be protected instead of our prime minister.
We return to the Neo-Gothic Salon, and the crowd has nearly doubled. People are spilling out of the room, with barely an inch of breathing space between them. When they see us, their cheers escalate to a frenzied pitch.
“Leo, Leo, forza, Leo!”
They look at me as though I’m someone else entirely—like I’ve shed my old skin and revealed a superhero underneath. I want to laugh, to wave my hands in front of their faces and bring them back to earth, remind them that I’m just Leo from the crumbling Pensione Danieli. But then the realization hits me: if I make it to space, if I succeed in the mission . . . a hero is exactly what I’ll be.
The thought sends a burst of adrenaline through my body, and I move with new purpose. I smile at the crowd of my neighbors, and I let myself soak in their roaring approval as the security guard steers the prime minister, Dr. Schroder, and me to the front of the packed room. Sergeant Rossi is still there, along with the prime minister’s wife and Elena, the three of them attempting to calm the feverish crowd. But there’s no restraining them now. A voice breaks into “L’Italiano,” our unofficial anthem, and soon everyone is joining in—singing at the top of their lungs, clapping and swaying to the rhythm.
I can’t stop grinning, even as a lump rises in my throat. This is the first time I’ve seen any of my fellow survivors emerge from the shadow of our grief, celebrating life the way we used to. Looking at the faces in front of me, it’s clear I wasn’t the only one who had lost hope, who was searching for something to cling to. Somehow, today I changed that for us all. Me.
Sergeant Rossi hands me the microphone.
“Thank you.” My voice comes out shaky, and I clear my throat. “Thank you for your love, your support. I won’t let you down. I’m going to represent our country, not just in front of the world . . . but in front of the cosmos.”
The room fills with whoops and whistles. Their voices drown me out, giving me a moment to say something to the one empty sliver of space I can find in the room—the place my parents and sister should be.

“This is for you.”

My transformation continues with an offer to spend my last weekend in Italy at Palazzo Senatorio, as the Vincentis’ guest of honor. I know the real reason for the invitation is so the prime minister’s guards can keep their watchful eyes on me until I take off for International Space Training Camp, but it’s a gift all the same. I can’t imagine returning to the pensione now—its emptiness would suck me back in, would make today’s news feel like it never happened. And so I jump at the chance to stay at the Palazzo, telling the prime minister I don’t even need to go home to pack. The only possession I’m taking is safe on my finger—the Danieli family signet ring.
Instead of the deflated mattress and moldy comforter back at home, I’m now lying in a plush double bed under a soft duvet, my stomach full for the first time in months.  I’m just drifting off to sleep when I hear a knock at the door. I pull the covers up over my head with a groan. Maybe if I ignore them, whoever is knocking will get the hint? But then I hear a voice.
“Leo, it’s me, Elena. Can you let me in?”
Huh. That’s not who I was expecting.
I drag myself out of bed and throw on the ESA shirt Dr. Schroder left for me. Is Elena here to hit on me or something? It almost makes me laugh to think about, until I remember that she is fifteen now, only two years younger than me. Still, I don’t think I could ever go through with it. There’s too much history. But Elena seems to have something else on her mind when I open the door.
“Sorry if I woke you,” she says, shutting the door behind her. “I just . . . I needed to talk to you before I lost the nerve.”
“Why? What’s going on?” I take a seat at the foot of the bed, but she remains standing, her face creased with worry.
“It’s—it’s something I overheard my parents talking about in their room. I’ve spent the past hour going over it in my head, wondering whether or not I should tell you. My papà says that repeating state secrets is treason, and I don’t want to go against him, but if something happened to you and I hadn’t said anything . . .” Her voice trails off. Now she’s got me nervous.
“What is it, Elena? Please, just say it.”
“He . . . told my mom that there’s a deeper reason you were chosen for the draft. He said the director of ESA—Dr. Schroder’s boss—has been watching you for years.”
It takes me a minute to digest her words, and then I grin with relief. That doesn’t sound so bad. “Okay, so I was carefully vetted. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Except they were tracking you long before the Europa Mission was even approved,” Elena says with a frown. “I heard Papà saying that it all started three years ago, after you got some attention from your first big swim championship. The ESA director reached out to him and asked for government permission to investigate you. He told my father that your speed, and ability to hold your breath underwater so much longer than normal, could make you some kind of . . . weapon for them.”
I stare at Elena. “You sure you heard that right?”
“I know I did, because then Mamma asked what he meant, what kind of weapon? Papà said all he knows is that it has to do with Europa. He told her she couldn’t say a word about any of this, and then he changed the subject. That’s when I left.”
I pause, letting this sink in. “So what you’re saying is that ESA spied on me, and your dad helped them? Because they think I have some deadly underwater skills?” I try to make a joke out of it, but there’s something chilling about the realization that these people have been watching me, invading my privacy, while I was in the dark.
Elena winces. “Yes. And that’s why I’m convinced there’s more to this mission than we’ve been told. These people obviously see you as something more than just a potential astronaut, and based on the secrecy . . . whatever they have in store for the Final Six has to be far more dangerous than they’re letting on.”
I take a moment to think. Elena’s revelation might change the way I look at ESA and the prime minister, but it doesn’t alter my feelings about the mission. Even if she is right and there is an untold danger on Europa, some unlikely reason that I’d be used as a weapon—what else do I have to live for? I can either help ensure humanity’s survival, or I can remain a useless waste of space on Earth. There is no scenario where I don’t choose the former.
“I’m glad you told me, but I wouldn’t back out even if I could,” I say. “If my skills are needed, and that’s what gets me out of here and into space . . . then I consider that good news.”
“But you can stay on guard while you’re at training camp. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything amiss. If you get there and it turns out the mission is a whole lot riskier than we’ve all been told, promise you’ll find a way to get word to me.” Elena lowers her voice. “You’re Angelica’s brother. I don’t want to see anything happen to you.”
Angelica’s brother. The words twist at my insides. It’s been so long since anyone spoke of my sister like she still exists.
“Okay.” My voice catches. “I promise.”
 

FOUR

NAOMI

I don’t get to say good-bye to my friends or teachers. I don’t even get the honor of cleaning out my own locker. As soon as the press conference ends, the NASA-appointed guard whisks me and my family away from the auditorium and off school property, citing “crowd concerns.” I glance over at my brother while the guard, Thompson, ushers us toward the elevated train. What will we do without each other? I can barely stomach the thought.
When we were little kids, I used to constantly refer to Sam as “mine,” and I guess I never really shook the feeling. Maybe it’s because I used some of my first words to beg our parents for a sibling, or because they let me pick out his name. Maybe it’s the nights I sat up late at his bedside, studying charts that I swiped from our doctor’s office as I tried to hack the code of his DNA—tried to understand how two kids of the same genetic makeup could be born with desperately different hearts. I promised him I wouldn’t rest until he was better, that we would never be apart. But now I’m breaking my promise. I’m leaving him.
My body turns cold as I imagine what could happen while I’m away. Sam is stable now, but it’s the unpredictability of his heart defect that makes it so terrifying. You never know when his body will reject the current medication, when he’ll need to be rushed to the hospital and put through another invasive, short-term fix to stave off heart failure—
“Hey.” Sam grabs my arm as we approach the train platform. “Remember what you always say: no problem has ever been solved by panicking.”
I smile in spite of myself. My brother has once again read my thoughts.
“You’re going to have enough to think about in the coming days,” he continues. “You can’t be worrying about me, too.”
“I can’t help it. It’s what I do when it comes to you.” My smile fades as I look at Sam, his sweatshirt practically hanging off of him. Even though I’ve been forcing him to take my extra meal portions, he still looks somehow thinner than yesterday. “There is just no way I can go—”
Sam stops me from finishing my sentence, elbowing me in the ribs and nodding at the guard. Thompson is to our right, his head cocked in our direction even as he answers a question of Dad’s.
I know why my brother is being so careful. We’ve all been warned that resisting the draft is the surest way to land in prison. I can’t afford to let anyone involved with NASA think of me as anything other than obedient—even when it’s the last thing I feel.
The train comes rumbling across the tracks toward us, looking eerily empty without the after-school hordes. Sam and I climb in first, heading for our usual spot in the third car, but Thompson insists on us cramming into the front with the conductor, for “security purposes.” It’s a silent and stiff ride home, none of us able to say anything real with a guard listening in. I turn my face to the window, feeling a flash of longing for the days when we had the privacy of our own car. Most countries outlawed all motor vehicles after climate change was declared an international emergency, but by then it was too late. The gas emissions had already played their role, to devastating effect.
As the train rattles forward, I watch the sights go by, drinking in every dreary image—just in case today is the last chance I’ll get to see my city. Then again, it’s not really my city, not anymore. This place is just a sad imposter, only pretending to be Los Angeles.
From Burbank to Los Feliz, the number of families on the streets seems to swell. They huddle together on unpaved roads slick with mud, they cower under downed power lines, as they beg the passersby for something, anything. I want to close my eyes—but every day I force myself to look, to see them.
The train curves around a bend, and now we’re traveling over the Hollywood Hills, where there’s no longer any flashy Hollywood sign to serve as a beacon. Instead, there are houses and buildings covered with thick layers of ash, and deep crevices in the streets marking where the earthquakes hit.
“You’re lucky to be leaving.”

I turn sharply at the sound of Sam’s voice. He is staring out the window alongside me, his expression unreadable. He forces a smile when our eyes meet, and I shake my head, wishing I could reassure him that I don’t see it that way, that I’ll find a way back home. How could I ever abandon him, especially now? But Thompson is listening. Instead, I loop my arm through my brother’s and lean my head on his shoulder. We don’t speak, but we stay close as the train hurtles toward home.

That night, while Thompson holds back the growing crowd of spectators outside our duplex, the four of us pile onto the couch in our combined living room/kitchen, planning to drown out the noise with TV. Dad flicks on the remote, and my stomach lurches at the face filling the screen. It’s me.
“Ho-ly crap!” Sam exclaims.
“Our little girl,” Mom murmurs to Dad, her voice quivering.
It’s the footage from today’s press conference. My skin turns hot as I watch myself onstage beside Dr. Anderson, looking woefully unprepared for my primetime debut in a worn pair of jeans and turquoise hoodie, my dark hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. A close-up reveals the beads of perspiration on my forehead, the panicky expression in my eyes. I have the urge to crawl under the couch cushions and hide, but thankfully, the image on the screen quickly shifts from me to the Newsline desk as anchor Robin Richmond faces the camera.
“There she is, folks: one of our American finalists and a two-time World Science Fair champion, Naomi Ardalan.” Robin’s melodic voice dances across the syllables of my last name, and I shake my head in disbelief. “While she’ll be representing the US, Naomi is actually a second-generation American. Her grandparents emigrated here from Iran, and sources tell me Naomi’s interest in science and technology was spurred on by their stories from home, of the ancient Persians who invented algebra and hydrodynamics.”
“Not to mention al-Sufi, who only discovered the Andromeda Galaxy,” I say to the TV. Despite how weird this all is, I can’t deny the warm glow in my chest at hearing my grandparents mentioned, their influence on my life recognized.
“If they could see you now . . . ,” Mom says softly, and I squeeze her hand.
The graying anchorman Seymour Lewis takes the mic, his deep voice booming through the screen. “From the granddaughter of immigrants, we move on to a finalist whose family has been in the good ol’ USA since just about the Mayflower: Beckett Wolfe, also known as the nephew of the president of the United States.”
The footage flashes to the White House lawn, where a tall, muscular blond boy in a prep school uniform strolls beside President Wolfe. Dad and I exchange a glance. Back on the screen, Robin Richmond arches an eyebrow at her cohost.
“Smells a bit like nepotism, wouldn’t you say?”
“Hold on a second.” Seymour, the anchor known for flying to the president’s defense, sits up straighter. “You know as well as I do that NASA and the Europa Mission leaders had final say in choosing the American finalists. Not POTUS.”
“Right.” Robin gives him a condescending nod. “And it’s safe to say the president made his wishes abundantly clear: to have his own blood on the first Europan settlement. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave NASA some real incentives to pick Beckett.”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Seymour sputters, but Robin continues.
“I’ll grant you that Beckett Wolfe had to have met the basic criteria, but let’s be honest here: he is no Naomi Ardalan.”
“Damn, Sis!” Sam yells, thumping my back proudly. “You just showed up the First Nephew on national TV!”
I can’t help laughing, and for one brief moment, the mood among the four of us lightens. But then Robin turns back to the camera, a solemn expression on her face.
“When we return, two former astronauts who oppose the mission will join us to discuss the deadly risks these teenagers will face as they set out into space.”
At those words, all our smiles vanish. Sam and I exchange a grim look. He follows the Space Conspirator just like I do . . . and we can both guess what the astronauts are about to say.
“They always have to interview the naysayers. It doesn’t make them right,” Dad says, aiming for a breezy tone even as the shakiness in his voice gives him away.
“Let’s see what else is on,” I tell him. The last thing we need is to sit here in fear, listening to all the dangers I’m about to encounter.
He changes the channel to Breaking News Tonight just in time for a segment titled “The Twenty-Four: Why They Were Chosen.” Show anchor Sanford Pearce is settled in at his sleek glass desk, hands folded as he addresses the audience.
“From an Olympic medalist to the world’s youngest tech titan, tonight we introduce you to the twenty-four teenagers who are setting out on a galaxy-spanning journey to change all of our lives.”
A montage begins, set to a cinematic score. The strangers from today’s press conference return, but instead of a collection of faces, I now get to see snippets of them in action. A boy with dark skin and black curls leads an interviewer through a garage-turned-office, proudly showing off the app he created to predict incoming earthquakes. A red-haired girl dressed in a white lab coat stands in the center of a formal room, while the man I recognize as King William V of England taps a sword against her left shoulder and then her right in some kind of ceremonial gesture. An Asian boy pilots a plane over the ocean, swerving past another incoming aircraft and calling out instructions to a copilot who looks a good decade his senior. And then someone familiar takes the screen, a tall, tanned boy stepping up to a diving board. It’s the Italian finalist—the one who tried to comfort me.
Just as I’m peering closer, the footage fades, the montage ending on a split-screen image of me and Beckett Wolfe. My cheeks heat up in self-consciousness.
“Like most of you, we on the news team were especially curious about the American finalists, Beckett Wolfe and Naomi Ardalan,” Sanford Pearce says into the camera. “Since their names were revealed this morning, we had a chance to do some research on these two exemplary teens. Take a look.”
The images on the TV scroll back in time, back to the last Wagner World Science Fair. I’m caught off guard by the sight of my fifteen-year-old self. I look different . . . I look happy.
My idol, Dr. Greta Wagner, enters the frame and hands me a gilded trophy. It’s the moment forever memorialized in the framed photo on my desk, reminding me every day to work harder, to think big, like Wagner.
“Last year, Naomi blew us away with her DNA editing solution, an experimental method of hacking into and correcting a patient’s genomes. This year, she brings us another work of true ingenuity: the Ardalan radio telescope model, with its unique antenna and receiver design that would allow us to capture a clearer signal from other planets in our solar system.”
As Dr. Wagner unveils my blueprints on the screen, my parents and Sam cheer in real time, right along with their younger selves in the footage. I smile with them, though my pride is dampened by the fact that the telescope was never built. Same with my DNA editing solution, which I dreamed up for Sam. Once Earth entered the state of climate destruction, there were no more grants or funds left for anything that didn’t relate to our immediate survival.
“In fact,” Dr. Wagner continues in the footage, “this is the kind of invention the folks at SETI would have jumped over themselves to use.”
The great inventor and engineer purses her lips, her eyes darkening, and I know the reason for her soured expression. SETI—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute—was defunded three months before the Wagner Science Fair. The scientific community protested the loss, but there was no way around it: NASA and the government had deemed the search for extraterrestrial life “nonessential” in these desperate times. And that’s precisely why the Final Six will be walking blindly into whatever is waiting on Europa—because unlike every previous space mission, there is no SETI to rule out the possibility of life.
My head snaps up.

I’ve just given myself an idea.

After saying goodnight to our parents, I grab my tablet and cross the hall from my pocket-size bedroom into Sam’s. I find him staring at a screen of his own, his brow furrowed with worry.
“What’s wrong? What are you looking at?”
I pull up a chair beside him at the desk, and he slides his laptop toward me. An article fills the screen, with the headline reading: “Athena Backup Crew Warns of Europa Risks.” At the center of the page is a photo of the surviving astronauts, hugging through their tears at the memorial for the doomed Athena crew five years ago. A chill creeps up my spine, and I quickly close the page.
“I know. I tried asking the NASA rep about it today, and she fed me the company line about how this mission will be completely different . . . but we have even more important things to talk about. Have you been on Space Conspirator today?”
Sam shakes his head and I log on to the site, which has a brand-new landing page since this morning’s announcement. Underneath the Conspirator logo is an artist’s sketch of six shadowy puppets, staring at a faceless creature rising up from the ocean—while a caricature of a man and woman, meant to represent the Europa Mission leaders, pull the puppet strings. As Sam shudders, I click on the website’s News tab and scroll, hunting for a certain article.
“That footage on TV gave me an idea—the part where Dr. Wagner mentioned SETI,” I tell him. “If I could prove it, if I could show the world that the Space Conspirator’s claims aren’t just the ravings of some renegade scientists, but the truth . . . well, that would change everything. It would bring me home.”
My cursor lands on the article I was looking for: “Scientific Probabilities of Life in Europa’s Oceans.” The Conspirator was right when it predicted the outcome of the Athena mission years ago. Why shouldn’t it be right this time, too—especially when science supports the theory? As my brother starts to read, I jump out of my chair, too fired up to sit still.
“I’ll go to Space Training Camp under the pretense of preparing for the Europa Mission—but in reality, I’ll be on a whole other mission of my own. I can use the Johnson Space Center tools at my disposal to finish the job that SETI never got to do. I’ll conduct my own search for extraterrestrial intelligence—focused solely on Europa.”
Sam turns around in his seat, watching me with raised eyebrows.
“If I can prove the theory that there is a high probability of intelligent life waiting for us, that would completely turn public opinion of the mission on its head.” I take a deep breath. “There is just no way world leaders would send us if they believed what I do. Especially when the president’s own nephew is involved.”
A slow smile spreads across my brother’s face.
“So you’re going to sabotage the mission from the inside?”
“I prefer the term ‘enlighten the public.’ But yeah.” I grin. “Certain people might call it sabotage.”
Sam reaches over to give me a fist bump.

“I like this plan. Go get ’em, Sis.”


Well, do you think they’ll make it? We can promise things don’t turn out quite as you expect… but let us know what you think so far in the comments!

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