When everything that defines you is stripped away, who do you become?
War has invaded Atalanta’s quiet villages and lush woodlands, igniting whispered worries in its glittering capitol. Far from the front lines, 18-year-old Aris Haan, a talented wingjet flyer, has little cause for concern. Until her beloved Calix is thrust into the fray, and a stranger makes her an impossible offer: the chance to join a secret army of women embedded within the all-male military.
Aris’s choice to follow Calix to war will do more than put her in physical danger; it will make her question everything she believes about herself. When she and her enigmatic commander uncover a deadly conspiracy, her expert flying may be the only hope for her dominion’s survival…and her own.
It’s Mulan meets Battlestar Galactica, with a heroine who is strong enough to save a nation…but only if she’s willing to sacrifice everything, even the one promise she swore she’d never break.
Aris turned to Calix and worked her hands around his waist until she held him tightly. “Tell me again,” she said. “Your father’s friend, the one who works with the Council. He said you’ll be Health, right?”
“Right.” He dipped to press a gentle kiss to her forehead. “There’s no need to worry. I’ll be Selected for Health and tonight we’ll Promise, like we planned. This is it. This is when it all begins.” No fear clouded his gaze. He smiled down at her with excitement, clearly believing their lives would proceed just as they expected.
She wanted to tell him about Tress. No, she wanted to forget Tress. She leaned her head against Calix’s chest and listened to the steady, slow beat of his heart.
“Nothing could change how I feel about you,” he said. “You know that.”
She tightened her arms around him, pressing closer: as if this one embrace could somehow cleave them to their hopes, to each other, and bind them to the path of their shared future. “I know.”
But her hands kept shaking.
When her number was called, Calix walked her to the massive white door of the Selection Room. Once seated within, she was washed in sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows. She tried to pay attention as the Council spoke of her family history and the high scores she’d received in agricultural science, but it was impossible not to think about Calix sitting in this chair. Calix being Selected.
“And your flying; really, it’s quite impressive,” one of the two Councilwomen said. “In the trials last fall, you received the highest marks of any in your class, indeed higher than we’ve seen in many years.”
Attention caught, Aris studied the councilwoman’s face. Would she reiterate Tress’s offer? He’d told her not to tell anyone, but if his “opportunity” was sanctioned by the dominion, wouldn’t they talk to her about it now?
But the woman said nothing more. Instead, the ruddy-cheeked Councilman in the center stood and held out his hand. Aris stood too, reaching out to complete the traditional handshake. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice her palms were sweating. He opened his mouth. Say Commerce, say Commerce. The thought was sudden and overwhelming. She’d always wanted Enviro before, but now—if he says Commerce that means Tress lied.
“We hereby select you for Environment, Aris Haan.”
Her heart froze.
“The Council feels you will be an important and productive addition to the sector, and it wishes you much luck and good will in pursuing your career.”
She managed a shaky smile and a small nod. Of course you were Selected for Enviro. It doesn’t mean anything.
The third member of the Council, a short, youngish woman with pinkish-blonde hair, explained that Aris could now apply to any Environment job for which she was qualified. No mention of Tress or Dianthe.
There will be little to keep you here
Tress’s words twisted through her mind, more ominous with each repetition. What would she do if Calix were Selected for Military?
The Councilman stamped her arm with the seal of the Environment Sector, a twisting black vine that would now forever curl along her wrist and forearm. Aris had always thought the brand would hurt, like getting a tattoo. But she felt nothing.
Soon it would be Calix’s turn.
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