Chapter 1

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Snowflakes sparkled in the mid-morning air. At least, that's what the weather app said. Confined within the home office, Linuka Hinloé stared at her prison's silver walls. Without a single window, the six-by-six chamber hosted one meager ceiling light casting a dull luster on the computer console resting before her on the stone floor. The crystal screen, like her, had been abandoned in this silver cell without even a piece of furniture. No distractions, her parents had said. No opportunities for getting into trouble, her sister had said. Torture, Linuka had said.

Why did her family treat her, a seventeen-year old, like an infant? She never did anything troublesome—at least, not most of the time.

What time was it, anyway?

Her brain converted her question into an electrical impulse; a hexagonal computer crystal tucked in the green sleeve of her dress read the signal as it monitored her nervous system; the computer converted the answer as an electrical impulse and sent it up the nerves in her wrist directly to her visual cortex; and the digits 10:21 flashed over the boring scenery.

Linuka sighed. She had finished biochemistry early. Astrophysics came next—more precisely—a collection of irrelevant videos about subspace trajectories, a topic made obsolete by the fact that a computer could make the necessary calculations without so much as a single human input.

She bounded off the cold floor and took two puny steps to the exit. A simple press against the invisible console tucked inside the wall caused the silver door to silently slide into its recess, opening her path to freedom. To the left and right, shafts of light spilled from the crystal roof onto an empty balcony. Below, silence emanated from the polished, white tiles.

All clear.

Stepping into the light, Linuka felt a gentle breeze caress her back as the door closed. Agile as the wind, she tip-toed left, proud that her hunter green dress didn't make so much as a peep as she slipped into her room. An assortment of crystals, engineering parts, and clothes presented a fine obstacle course, and she noted the still unfolded blankets draping off her stone bed as she reached the finished mark of the windowsill. Her mother or sister—or maybe both—would yell at her later for the mess. She shrugged her shoulders. She could tackle that hurdle later.

As the weather app had proclaimed, stray, white flakes danced in the morning light that peeked through a layer of wispy clouds. A tap to the wall console opened the window and admitted a rush of cold air from empty streets below. At this hour, everyone fulfilled their work or school obligations—well, all but one.

Leaning out the window, Linuka paused. Dare she leave her father alone? Today was the most important day for the Hinloé family in decades: Fela turned one hundred, the day a Cinlin formally joined society. Following in their mother's footsteps, Fela had apprenticed for decades in the observatory. This afternoon, the city's council would acknowledge Fela's accomplishments and record her name in the official history of the city as an astrophysicist. To celebrate, both Fela and her mother had left for the observatory at the break of dawn, probably having the time of their lives with their colleagues.

Only Hildor, her father, stayed behind, supposedly to keep Linuka focused on her school work. Since he wasn't upstairs, he had long since forgotten about her for his work in the basement. His current project involved a brilliant modification to the energy barrier of the military's fighter ships, which, if successful, would ensure Cinla never lost another pilot. His obsessive dedication to redesigning defense systems had promoted him to chief engineer for the Involosrho army and, finally, Minister of Defense. Maybe, one day, she could contribute to society as much as he had. He already allowed her to be his assistant, even permitting her to conduct some experiments. He, at least, understood she had a mind for creating—not for sitting around staring at a computer. Since she was already two years ahead in the curriculum, he wouldn't mind her taking yet another day off as long as she came back in time to get him to the ceremony. He was a genius, but definitely absent minded.

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