A Pilot and Her Flightleader Face Off in This Exclusive Excerpt from Brandon Sanderson’s StarsightCover Illustration by Charlie Bowater Books Features brandon sanderson
Humanity’s future is at stake in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward series, and a young pilot with a secret might be able to save it.
Spoilers for Skyward ahead.
Sanderson debuted his sci-fi epic last year, introducing a girl named Spensa whose world has been under attack for generations. The series’ first book, also titled Skyward, revealed that Spensa’s pilot father deserted his team before he died. But Spensa isn’t convinced of his treachery, and mounting secrets about herself and her world are causing her to question everything she believes.
Spensa’s adventures continue in Starsight, which hits shelves next week. And the description makes it sound just as thrilling as Skyward:
All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. The rumors of his cowardice are true—he deserted his flight during battle against the Krell. Worse, though, he turned against his team and attacked them.
Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars—and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie.
But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself—and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.
We’re thrilled to share an exclusive excerpt of Starsight, which opens as Spensa returns to her team’s base of operations after a battle. Delacorte Press will release Starsight on November 26th, and you can pre-order the novel here.
M-Bot calculated our approach.
The others still weren’t completely comfortable with him. A computer program that could think and talk like a person? Gran-Gran—who had been a little girl during the days before our people had crashed on Detritus—said she’d heard of such things, but they had been forbidden.
Still, M-Bot provided an advantage we couldn’t ignore. With his hyperefficient calculations, we could easily navigate a path through the defensive platforms surrounding Detritus without the aid of DDF mathematicians.
We carefully maintained the course he indicated, passing just outside the range of the gun emplacements on metal platforms the size of mountain ranges. I noted the shadows of skyscrapers. During my schooling, I’d taken mandatory heritage classes each year—where we’d seen pictures of Old Earth, and had been taken to see animals of many varieties in special caverns where they were bred. So I knew about life there, and about things like skyscrapers, even if I’d always found Gran-Gran’s stories of the ancient times more interesting than the heritage classes.
Those skyscrapers indicated that these platforms around Detritus had been inhabited once, like the planet had been, but something had destroyed them centuries ago.
The sight of all the platforms—curving into what seemed like infinity—never failed to leave me breathless. Our fifty starfighters were specks of dust by comparison. How long had it taken to build all of this? There were maybe a hundred thousand people living in the cave networks that made up our nation, the Defiant Caverns. But that entire population could vanish into just one of these platforms.
The command came to decelerate. I spun M-Bot with the others and pointed my boosters toward the planet. A quiet, easy burn slowed my ship.
Facing backward toward the shells, it all looked faintly like the gears of some eldritch clock going about an unknowable purpose. Each platform rotating in its turn, guns ready to vaporize anyone—human or alien—who tried to interfere. These shells were the reason we were still alive though, so I wasn’t complaining.
Our ships soon passed the nearest shell to the planet, which was distinctive for several reasons. The most obvious was that it held thousands of massive lights that shone like spotlights, illuminating sections of the planet below. These skylights created an artificial day/night cycle.
This inner shell was also in a far worse state of repair than the outer ones. Enormous fields of debris tumbled through space here just outside the atmosphere. This junk was the remnants of—we assumed—platforms that had been destroyed. Some sections had fallen inward, crashing into the planet after losing power.
A voice crackled in my helmet speaker. “Skyward Flight,” a man’s voice said, “and Xiwang Flight. Admiral Cobb has ordered you to dock on Platform Prime. The rest of you, head down to the surface for off-shift rotation.”
I recognized the speaker as Rikolfr, a member of the admiral’s staff. I complied, turning my ship in the right direction. That brought Detritus into my view: a blue-grey sphere with a bright, inviting atmosphere. Thirty ships from our fleet flew off down toward the planet.
The rest of us skimmed along outside the atmosphere, passing several platforms whose lights blinked a friendly blue, instead of the angry red of the other platforms. Thanks to M-Bot’s stealth capabilities, we’d been able to land on one and hack its systems. Fortunately, the platforms’ internal security protocols made some small exceptions for humans, which had given the engineers a brief respite—long enough to finish their work.
That done, Rodge and the other engineers had figured out how to power down a few of the platforms nearby, letting us reclaim those too. Our work had captured only ten out of thousands so far, but it was a promising start.
Platform Prime was the largest of these—an enormous platform with docking bays for starfighters. We’d turned it into an orbital headquarters, though the engineering teams were still working on some of its systems—most notably the ancient data banks.
I flew into my assigned dock, a small individual hangar. The lights flickered on as the bay door closed, and the room pressurized. I drew in a deep breath and sighed, then opened the canopy. It felt so dull to return after a battle and go back to ordinary life. Unrealistic though it was, I wished that I could continue patrolling and flying. The answers to who I was—to what I was—were out there somewhere, not in these sterile metallic hallways.
“Hey!” M-Bot said as I climbed out of the cockpit. “Take me with you. I don’t want to miss the fun.”
“I’m just going to get a lecture.” “Like I said…,” he replied.
Fine. I reached back under the front control panel and unhooked his new mobile receptor: a bracelet device that contained some sensory equipment, a holographic projector, a receiver to boost M-Bot’s communication capabilities, and a small clock display. He claimed to have had a mobile receptor like it in the past, but it was missing—his old pilot had probably taken it hundreds of years ago when he’d gone out to explore Detritus.
When M-Bot had given the engineers plans to create a new one, they’d gone crazy over the microhologram technology it contained. Fortunately, they’d stopped celebrating long enough to fabricate me a replacement. I’d taken to wearing this rather than my father’s light-line, as I rarely found chances to use that now that I wasn’t exploring caverns regularly.
I snapped on the hologram bracelet, then handed my helmet to Dobsi—one of the ground crew members—as she climbed up the ladder outside to check on me.
“Anything we should look at?” she asked.
“I took a chunk of debris on the right side of the fuselage with my shield down.”
“I’ll check it out.”
“Thanks,” I said. “And fair warning: he’s in one of his moods.”
“Is he ever not?”
“There was this one time,” I said, “when he was processing a self-diagnostic, and didn’t say anything for a whole five minutes. It was pure bliss.”
“You know,” M-Bot said, “that I’m programmed to be able to recognize sarcasm, right?”
“The joke would be wasted if you weren’t.” I entered the changing room, which doubled as my bunk up here—not that I owned a lot. My father’s pin, my old maps of the caverns, and a few of my improvised weapons. I kept them in one trunk beside the cot, with my changes of clothing.
As soon as I entered, a fluting trill greeted me. Doomslug sat on her perch beside the door. Bright yellow, with little blue spikes along her back, she was snuggled into some of my old shirts, which she’d made into a nest. I scratched her on the head, and she gave another joyful fluting sound. She wasn’t slimy, but rather tough, like the feel of good leather.
I was glad to see her here; she was supposed to stay in my bunk room, but kept slipping away somehow, and I’d often find her in the hangar. She seemed to like being near M-Bot.
I washed up, but didn’t change out of my flight suit. Then, having wasted as much time as I could justify, I steeled myself with a warrior’s determination and stepped out into the hallway. The light here was always too bright after being out in space—the white walls shiny and reflective. The only part that wasn’t overly polished or lit was the carpet down the center, which had aged remarkably well—likely because this had all been a vacuum until the engineering team had patched the station’s holes and turned on the life support systems.
In the hallway waited the other members of my flight. Nedd and Arturo were arguing about whether or not pilots should be allowed to paint designs on the fronts of their ships. I ignored them and stepped up beside Kimmalyn, whose hair was messy now that she held her helmet under her arm.
“You do realize how mad Jorgen is,” she whispered to me.
“I can handle him,” I said. Kimmalyn raised an eyebrow.
“Really,” I said. “I just have to be properly confident and intimidating. Got any eye black handy?”
“Uh, what’s that?”
“A kind of war paint used by the men who fought on the gridiron on Old Earth. A type of deathmatch involving a dead pig.”
“Neat. But I’m fresh out. And…Spin, wouldn’t it be better to not aggravate Jorgen? For once?”
“Not sure I’m capable of that.”
FM walked past, giving me an encouraging thumbs-up. I returned it, though I still felt awkward around her sometimes. The tall, slender woman somehow managed to wear even a flight suit in a fashionable way, while the bulky clothing always made me feel like I had on three layers too many. She joined T-Stall and Catnip, a pair of guys who had been added to our flight to fill in holes. They were in their early twenties, older than the rest of us by a few years, though they were doing their best to integrate.
Aside from Jorgen, the only other member of our team was Sadie, the new girl. She promptly tripped over the small ledge on the ground between her changing room and the hallway, nearly dropping her helmet. Her blue hair and distinctive features reminded me of…well, painful memories.
Most of the others continued on down the hall toward the mess, but I waited around for Jorgen—better to confront him now, though he was usually last out of his ship, as he went through the postflight checklist every time, in detail, even though it was okay to let the ground crew do it. Kimmalyn waited with me, and Sadie hurried over to us.
“You were so amazing out there,” she said, clutching her helmet to her chest as she beamed. Scud. We were only one class ahead of her group, so were basically the same age. But surely we didn’t look nearly as young as she did.
“Yeah, well, nice flying today yourself,” I said.
“You were watching?” I hadn’t been watching, but I nodded to her encouragingly. “Maybe soon I’ll be able to be like you, Spin!”
“You did wonderfully, dear,” Kimmalyn said, patting Sadie on the shoulder. “But never try to be who you aren’t; you don’t have nearly enough practice to pull it off.”
“Right, right,” Sadie said, digging in her pocket and pulling out a little notepad and a pencil. “Never…who you aren’t…” She scribbled down the saying as if it were scripture, though I was sure Kimmalyn had made it up on the spot.
I glanced at Kimmalyn. Her serene expressions were famously hard to read, but the twinkle in her eyes revealed she loved the idea of someone recording her sayings.
“I wish I could have followed you today, Spin. It looked dangerous for you to be alone.”
“The only thing I want you to follow, Sadie,” a firm voice said, “is your orders. If only others were so inclined.”
I didn’t have to look to know that Jorgen—flightleader, and sometimes Jerkface—had finally joined us, and was standing behind me.
“Um, thank you, sir,” Sadie said, then saluted and scampered off toward the mess.
“Good luck,” Kimmalyn whispered to me, squeezing my arm. “May you only get what you deserve.” Then, of course, she abandoned me.
Well, I could slay this beast on my own. I turned around, chin up—then had to tip my head back a little farther. Why did he have to be so scudding tall? Jorgen Weight, with his deep brown skin, was a pillar of exquisite, rule-following determination. He went to bed each night with the DDF Code of Conduct tucked under his pillow, he ate his breakfast while listening to patriotic speeches, and he exclusively used silverware that had the words Don’t let Spensa have any fun stenciled on the handles.
I might have made a few of those things up. Regardless, it did seem that he spent far too much of his life complaining about me. Well, I’d grown up around bullies. I knew how to stand up for myself against someone who—
“Spensa,” he said to me, “you need to stop being such a bully.”
“Ooooooh,” M-Bot’s voice said from my wrist. “Nice.”
“Shut up,” I muttered to him. “Bully? Bully?” I poked Jorgen in the chest. “What do you mean, bully?”
He eyed my finger.
“I can’t bully you,” I said. “You’re taller than I am.”
“That is not how it works, Spensa,” Jorgen growled, his voice growing lower. “And…what are you wearing on your face?”
On my face? It was such a non sequitur that I momentarily forgot the argument with Jorgen, glancing instead at the polished metallic wall to see my reflection. My face was painted with black lines under my eyes. What?
“Eye black,” M-Bot said from my wrist. “Paint worn by athletes on Old Earth. You said to Kimmalyn that—”
“That was a joke,” I said. The skin paint was a hologram M-Bot had projected onto me by his mobile receptor. “You really need to have someone rewrite your humor program, M-Bot.”
“Oooohhhhh,” he said. “Sorry.” He made the hologram vanish.
Jorgen shook his head, then brushed past me and stalked down the hallway, leaving me to hurry to catch up.
“You’ve always been independent, Spin, I get that,” he said. “But now you’re using your powers and your status to shove everyone else—including Cobb—around. You’re ignoring protocol and orders because you know there’s not a scudding thing the rest of us can do about it. Those are the actions of a bully.”
“I’m trying to protect the others,” I said. “I’m drawing away the enemy! I’m becoming a target!”
“The plan was for you to do that, then lead them back toward us so we could attack them from the sides. I noted several chances where you could have done this, and you specifically chose to double down on fighting them by yourself.” He eyed me. “You’re trying to prove something. What is wrong with you lately? You were always eager to work as part of the team before. Scud, you practically forged this team. Now you act like this? Like you’re the only one who matters?”
My objections faded away. Because I knew he was right, and I knew that making excuses here would be fighting with the wrong weapon. There was only one that ever really worked with Jorgen. The truth.
“They’re determined to kill me, Jorgen,” I said. “They will throw everything they have at us until I’m dead.”
We stopped at the end of the hall, beneath a blaring white light.
“You know it’s true,” I said, meeting his eyes. “They’ve figured out what I am. If they destroy me, then they can trap us on Detritus forever. They will cut through anyone to get to me.”
“So you make it easier for them?”
“I’m distracting them, like I said, so that…” The words died on my lips. Scudding Jerkface and his intensely knowing eyes. “Okay, fine. I’m trying to push myself. The one time I did it, the one time I hyperjumped, I was in the middle of an explosion. I was desperate, threatened, about to die. So I figure if I can recreate that emotion, I might be able to do it again. I might be able to figure out what it is I can do, what it is…that I really am.”
He sighed, looking up toward the ceiling with what seemed to me a melodramatic expression. “Saints help us,” he muttered. “Spin, that’s crazy.”
“It’s bold,” I said. “A warrior always tests herself. Pushes herself. Seeks the limits of her skills.”
He eyed me, but I held my ground. Jorgen had a way of making me vocalize the things I didn’t normally acknowledge, not even to myself. Maybe that made him a good flightleader. Scud, the fact that he could kind-of-somewhat handle me was proof enough of that.
“Spensa,” he said. “You’re the best thing we have. You’re vital to the DDF…and to me.”
I was suddenly aware of how close he was standing. He leaned down just a little, and for a moment seemed like he wanted to go further. Unfortunately, there was something blocking us at the same time, interfering with whatever we might have been able to have. For one, the flightleader-pilot relationship was awkward.
There was more than that though. He was the embodiment of order, and I…well, I wasn’t. I didn’t know what or who I really was. When I was honest with myself, I had to admit that was why I hadn’t moved forward with him these past six months.
Jorgen eventually leaned away. “You know the National Assembly has been talking about how you’re too important to risk in battle. How they want to keep you back.”
“I’d like to see them try,” I said, angry at the thought.
“Part of me would too,” he said, then smiled fondly. “But really, do we need to give them ammunition? You’re part of a team. We are part of a team. Don’t start thinking you have to do things alone, Spensa. Please. And for the stars’ sake, stop trying to put yourself in danger. We’ll find another way.”
I nodded, but…it was easy for him to say things like that. Gran-Gran said that even when our ancestors had been part of a space fleet together, people like me had been feared.
The people of the engines. The hyperdrives. We were strange. Maybe even inhuman.
Jorgen keyed his code into the doorway at the end of the hall, but before he finished, the door opened. Kimmalyn had activated it from the other side. “Guys,” she said, breathless. “Guys.”
I frowned. She wasn’t normally this excitable. “What?” “Rodge sent me word,” she said. “The engineers working on the platform’s computer systems? They just found something. A recording.”
Excerpt copyright © 2019 by Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC. Cover art © 2019 by Charlie Bowater. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, New York.