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In the morning, the Dorm Leaders drag us out of bed just as the wake-up alarm claxons go off. I come awake to the loud voice of Gina Curtis and then the additional shrill sound of her whistle, as she’s moving through the Girl’s Dorm floor.

Attention! Good morning, everyone! Time to get up now, move it, ladies! Up, up, up! A big day today!”

“Awww, nooooo!” Laronda moans one bunk over. And similar groans of pain can be heard from all around the room.

I shudder, pull the blanket over my head and grimace at the pain that’s coming from every single tormented muscle in my body.

And then like a cold pail of water the sobering memory of the previous night hits me hard. . . .

“Move your rear ends, get in the bathrooms, get dressed, and be downstairs by seven-thirty AM! No breakfast! I repeat, no breakfast! Dorm meeting!”

“What’s going on?” a girl asks. “Is it something to do with that shuttle crash accident?”

Gina Curtis turns in her direction with an angry frown. “You can bet your sweet ass, it has everything to do with the tragedy of last night! Now, move it!”

I drag myself up and check the condition of my makeshift laundry “clothesline” around the mattress. My underwear managed to dry overnight, but the T-shirt and jeans are still a little wet. I can wear them and let them finish air-drying while on me. My socks however are still soggy, so with a grimace I put on my only other unwashed pair, because there’s just no way I’ll survive the day of new exercise without socks on my blistered feet.

Why am I thinking about underwear and socks?

I grab my clothes, run to the bathroom past other girls, as we push and shove to take care of our morning business.

I keep my head down and brush my teeth at the sink when I hear some familiar voices.

“I heard that three at least died,” Olivia says to another girl whose back is turned. Claudia is next to them, as they stand taking up real estate in front of the mirrors and two sinks.

“Yeah, well, serves the Goldilocks right . . . I won’t be shedding too many tears—” the girl hisses, then turns around and sees me staring.

“Shut up!” Olivia nudges her. “Quiet, idiot! Don’t let anyone hear you talk that way, or they throw you and me both out of here, and you can kiss Qualification goodbye!”

“You didn’t hear anything, Gwen Lark,” Claudia says, with an intense glare in my direction. “Unless you want me to brush your hair some more, you get my meaning?”

I shake my head, and look away, and quickly finish my business without saying a word. To be honest, I hardly care. . . . I think I’ve forgotten to be afraid of these alpha girls because of what has happened overnight, and it has given me a strange, new, serene perspective—a sense of cool desperation that is eclipsing all my other usual emotions that would otherwise be overwhelming me right about now.

My mind is going over and over the events of the previous night. . . .

Emotionally numb and yet clear-headed and focused, I come downstairs, and the first floor Common Area and lobby is packed with Candidates from our dorm. Dorm Leaders Gina Curtis, John Nicolard, and Mark Foster are standing in the middle of the room and they don’t look too happy.

“All right, attention!” Mark Foster raises his hand for silence.

“Last night, two Atlantean shuttles were involved in a serious incident here on the airfield,” John Nicolard says. His face is grave. “There was an incident on takeoff. One of them, carrying three passengers, exploded in flight, for reasons unknown, killing everyone on board. The second, carrying one pilot, crash-landed. The person in the second shuttle was injured but was fortunately treated by our EMTs on the ground. He was then taken up to the closest Atlantis starship for their advanced medical treatment via an emergency transport that was called down on his behalf. He is expected to survive, but I have no details on his present condition.”

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