Chapter 1. Flight

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"Check it out, Roz – I think we're just crossing the border."

I startle, but manage to hold back an undignified yelp. Fortunately, Sennai has his back to me, his eyes glued to the little round window behind which the air drops for nearly fifty miles before hitting the ground.

Damn the architect who felt space shuttles need windows. I have trouble standing too close to the window of my father's office. He's always telling me to stop whimpering.

"Come take a look," Sennai says. He turns to me, revealing some of the cloud deck below and the blackness of space above.

My fingers tense around the arm rests, and I have to make an effort to keep a neutral expression. Still, my voice sounds hoarse, the one thing I can't control. "That's all right. I believe you."

"Come on, Roz," Sennai reproaches, "you have to actually look. Who else gets to see this?" But he's already distracted again, mesmerized by the view, removing the depths from my sight with his bushy hair.

I dig my nails out of the leather to rest my hands in my lap, but the lack of gravity takes hold of them and carries them up. Another jolt goes through me and I yank my hands back to my body.

Remember why you're here, I think to myself. Once you're back on the ground, this will all be over, and it will all be worth it.

It will be worth all of it.

Ambassador Pilger looks at me in sympathy from the other side of the aisle. That's just what I need, for Pilger to tell my father how sorry he felt for me during the flight. My father who found time to remind me I had better not disgrace him, even as we said our farewells at the shuttle port. Of course, he never actually said those words. Not in public. He told me to 'make him proud'. I exhausted myself keeping my face blank, not to show how much he can still hurt me.

The last thing I need right now, from anyone, is sympathy. Sympathy is dangerous. Sympathy makes you weak. And since we are about to land among our enemies, I can no more afford to be weak here than I could at home.

I forcibly relax my hands and throw Pilger a smile and a nod that don't feel convincing – then make a snap decision and unbuckle, my stomach doing a backflip in protest as my body surrenders to the weightlessness of space. Slowly, I float over to Sennai and nudge him. Only when he moves his head to the side do I realize the horrible mistake I have made: it's like I'm toppling straight into the shimmering blue of the atmosphere.

I probably make a sound, because Sennai says, "Easy," and all of a sudden I am pulled down to a seat next to his. He bends over me to strap me in, allowing me a brief but nauseating view of the oceans – and, traversing them, the Borders. From up here, they are no more than fairy lights dividing Earth's seas, like the trimming on a Christmas tree. I remember the only time I saw one of those lights, when I escaped another of my father's tedious receptions to go explore the border island we were visiting. The Border buoy was a cold, unblinking blue eye that covered the surface of the entire bay, staring up into the sky from below the waters, ready to seek and destroy whatever neared its threshold from the wrong side.

A shiver runs across my back.

I made it, I remind myself again. I escaped. I'll be one of the first civilians to cross these borders in well over a hundred years. Before me, it was just drones, bombs, and suicide pilots. Well, and Ambassador Pilger and other diplomats. And I guess other space shuttle pilots and crews, to ferry them over the border. But nobody like me.

Sennai smiles as he gets back up, blocking my view again, and I think: nobody like us. Dark-skinned, wild-curled, towering Sennai is making history just as much as I am. I have to remember that.

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