Lost Horizon Chapter One
Kansas Space Station—2312
“Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty”—the door slides open, barely making any sound besides a soft swish of air—“nine, fifty.”
“What are you doing?” My cousin Sabrina barges in and then flops on my bed.
The lack of privacy used to bother me when I moved in with Uncle Henry and my cousins six years ago. Now, it’s part of my life. Square footage is limited in any space station, even here in Kansas, the largest space station in the Star Freedom Alliance.
With a quick jump, I get onto my feet, rubbing my sweaty hands on my skintight workout pants. “Killing time.”
In true dramatic fashion, Sabrina rolls her eyes. “You’re such a weirdo, Dorothy.”
“Dorothy is not a weirdo.” Adrian, Sabrina’s younger brother, comes in, followed by the robot dog he designed, Mumu.
People call me a prodigy because I’m the youngest cadet to ever graduate from the Space Academy program, but the true prodigy is the kid in front of me. He has accomplished more in the field of robotics at only eight years old than the seasoned scientists the Star Freedom Alliance employs.
His blond hair is sticking out in all directions, and there’s dried jam on his chin. Despite his genius status, he’s still a young boy. I reward him with a smile as I place my hand on the wall in front of me. The surface glows for a second before the embedded sink juts forward. A mirror hangs above it, showing just slightly flushed skin and a sheen of sweat on my forehead. I’ve used a headband to push my bangs back, but a few rogue strands have escaped and are now stuck to my temple. The splash of cold water on my face serves to reinvigorate me—and also prepare me to deal with Sabrina.
“What do you want? We have to head to Master Shogun’s class soon.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me. Anyway, a few of us are going to Tethis tonight, and I was wondering if I could borrow some credits.”
Frowning, I lean against the wall. “What happened to all those credits Uncle Henry deposited on your account as a graduation gift an hour ago?”
I know it was a substantial amount because I also received it.
Adrian cuts in before Sabrina can reply, “She spent it all, buying fancy clothes to impress her stupid boyfriend.”
“Shut up, Adrian. No one asked you.”
“Well, can’t your boyfriend pay for everything, as he always does?” I raise an eyebrow.
Sabrina makes an exaggerated motion with her hand while her eyes widen a fraction. “We’re going to Neon City, all right? I can’t ask my boyfriend to give me credits for gambling.”
“You’re going to Neon City?” I ask before I can stop myself, hating the pitiful yearning in my voice.
Neon City is supposed to be the most gorgeous city in the entire Katarin solar system. I’ve been dying to go, but it’s a gambling town. Anyone younger than twenty-one must have an escort. I’m only eighteen.
“That’s what I said. Now, you understand why I need those credits?”
“Wait a second.” Adrian raises his hand, standing between his sister and me. “Why aren’t you inviting Dorothy to come with you? She’s graduating as well, isn’t she?”
Blood rushes to my cheeks, a reflection of the shame and anger swirling in my chest. By now, I should be used to never being invited to anything. I’ve mastered all academic and practical subjects thrown at me, but social skills are something I’ve failed to grasp. I’m a disgrace when it comes to mingling with my peers.
They’re not important anyway. I glance at the medical bracelet on my left wrist. Time is running out.
Sabrina’s eyebrows arch as if she’s surprised by Adrian’s question. She turns to me. “Well, do you want to go?”
Guilt propelled her invitation, but this might be my only chance to visit Neon City.
“Sure.” I downplay my eagerness with a shrug and then fleetingly lock gazes with Adrian.
His eye roll would be amusing if it wasn’t at my expense. The kid can see right through me.
Sabrina shocks me by throwing her arm around my shoulder and tightly squeezing it. My spine goes rigid in an instant. I hate when my personal space is invaded.
“Let’s find something for you to wear then.”
Disengaging from the unwanted physical contact, I move to my desk, focusing on arranging every single item in an orderly manner. “We should be heading to Master Shogun’s class, or we’ll be late.”
“We have time.” A swishing sound lets me know Sabrina is looking inside my closet. “Oh my stars. Where are all your clothes?”
Crossing my arms, I turn around. “I have all I need.”
Sabrina pulls a long tunic dress from the rack and wrinkles her nose. It’s the only formalwear I own. I bought it when Uncle Henry, Sabrina’s father, insisted I attend a diplomatic function on New Earth with him. No one expected my choice. The dress is white with lime-green accents. Gold embroidery adorns the cuffs and collar. It’s loud and so not my style. But it reminded me of the dress my mother had worn at her wedding. I didn’t think twice about acquiring it.
“I can’t believe you still have this,” Sabrina says in disgust.
Irritated, I pull the dress from her grasp and hang it back where it belongs. “I can’t believe you managed to blow all your credits in less than an hour, but here we are.”
“If you’re going to be your usual obnoxious self, you’re not coming to Neon City with me.”
I let out a sigh. “Sorry. I promise to keep my sarcastic comments to myself. The stars forbid I offend any of your sensitive friends. Let’s go now. I don’t want to be late for Master Shogun’s class.”
The cold air in the room is charged with unveiled anticipation as Master Shogun, the most respected instructor in the entire Space Academy program, moves with calculated, slow steps toward the middle of the training mat. This is our final lecture from the Earthian legend in the arts of combat. Hairless and with pale skin, he resembles more a marble statue than a living creature. Due to his mixed heritage—human and Tethian—his face is not as harsh as if he were a pure breed. I could say he almost seems friendly, harmless. But, despite his tall, wiry frame, the male is a deadly weapon.
Everyone is watching him with bated breath as he turns to the assembly of students, his six-fingered hands carrying two bō staffs.
He sweeps the room with keen eyes, not focusing on anyone in particular before he speaks, “This is our final lesson before you graduate from the academy. Many of you will step into the new phases of your lives without a glance back, glad to finally be done with training.”
Sabrina and a few of her friends chuckle, eliciting a grin from the master.
“Yes, yes. I know some of you believe that learning to fight without your laser blasters is a waste of time. May the stars permit you never have to face an enemy without your precious weapons.”
“It’s not that, Master Shogun,” Dabian, Sabrina’s boyfriend, interjects. “We haven’t had any conflict in the Andromeda Galaxy for hundreds of years. I don’t know why we must learn rudimentary fight movements when we could have spent more time flying.”
“Just because Andromeda Galaxy is in peace, it doesn’t mean other galaxies are the same,” I snap, throwing a glower at the guy.
Instead of replying, Dabian does what he does best—dismisses my remark with a roll of his eyes. I don’t know what my cousin sees in him besides his cookie-cutter good looks.
“Dorothy makes a good point. However, the reason you must train in combat fighting is not simply to be able to defend yourselves in case the need arises. The purpose is to know yourselves, to understand what your mind and body are truly capable of.”
“That’s what you said in our first lesson,” Sabrina chimes in.
“Indeed, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it.” Master Shogun smiles benevolently at my cousin, resting the tips of the bō staffs on the floor.
“Especially when idiots keep questioning it,” I say under my breath, focusing on the point where staff meets tatami.
“Why do you have those wooden staffs? Aren’t we going in the simulator?” someone asks.
Master Shogun reverently raises the weapons, horizontally balancing them on the tips of two fingers. “As is tradition in the final class, the students with the two highest scores will fight each other, using a method of my choice. Today is the bō staff.”
I lift my face so fast; I pull a muscle on my neck. I have the highest score overall, including in this class. Turning slowly, I find Dabian eyeing me with unconcealed disdain as he sizes me up. He’s number two—a reality he can’t accept. It’s not only because I’m the youngest cadet to ever graduate from the Space Academy program. Dabian’s mother is a commander in the Star Freedom Alliance, and therefore, Dabian believes the number one spot belongs to him by birthright. His ego is enormous and probably has to ride shotgun anywhere he goes.
A perverse grin unfurls on his lips as he cracks his knuckles.
“Dorothy and Dabian, step onto the tatami, please,” Master Shogun calls.
Squaring my shoulders and lifting my chin, I walk with purpose toward the master, doing my best to ignore the snickers and malicious comments being whispered among my classmates. I might be the best student in the academy, but I’m not the most popular—a fact that brings constant shame to Sabrina. She’s afraid my status as a social pariah will rub off on her, which, in her eyes, is akin to death. She obviously has no grasp of the devastation a true death means despite being touched by it as well, just like me.
Dabian and I stop side by side in front of Master Shogun. From the corner of my eye, I notice Dabian’s solemn face. No more snide remarks or stupid jokes from him. He’s in the zone. This is his last chance to prove that he can best me.
Setting my jaw hard, I glance at the master. His expression is neutral, and there isn’t any warmth coming from his ice-blue eyes. His hands are cold when he hands me the bō staff.
Dropping my chin, I curl my fingers around the smooth surface, getting a feel for its weight and length. It’s different than the metallic one we use in the simulator. It’s much lighter, which means I’ll have to be extremely careful with my wrist movements. A miscalculation would mean the staff would fly right out of my hand.
Master Shogun steps away as Dabian and I face one another.
We bow, as is customary, but before I return to a straighter position, Dabian whispers, “You’re going down, Dorothy.”
His words are meant to goad, get me off my game.
Fully upright now, I place my feet wider apart, bending my knees and assuming a fight stance. With a smirk, I reply, “We’ll see about that.”
When Master Shogun reaches the end of the tatami, he raises his hand, signaling for the fight to commence. Dabian doesn’t waste a second, going on the offensive first. Rotating his staff extremely fast, he advances, slamming his weapon hard over my head. I block his attack with my staff, feeling the impact deep into my bones. I’ve sparred with real people outside the simulator before but never with a bō staff. I have to say, the programmers miscalculated by a mile the effects of the blow. In real life, it’s much more jarring.
Dabian comes at me again, swinging his weapon left and right. He’s grinning openly now, knowing he has the brutal-strength advantage. I can’t allow this fight to continue, or he’ll tire me out. I need to outsmart him. The opportunity presents itself next. He attempts to hit me on my side, but I jump out of the way, somersaulting over his head to land in a crouch behind him. Not lifting from my lower position, I pivot on the ball of my foot, extending my left leg to give me leverage as I slam my staff with all my strength against the backs of his thighs. Dabian lets out a loud grunt before his legs fold with the impact, sending him down on his knees.
I jump back onto my feet, hitting Dabian on his weapon-yielding arm at the same time. He doesn’t let go of the staff though. Instead, he makes a grab for my shirt, shoving me forward. It happens too fast, and I can’t avoid falling on my stomach with a loud thud.
Son of a gun.
I manage to roll onto my back, but Dabian is already upon me, straddling me as he attempts to steal my staff. Not today, D-bag. Instead of pulling the staff away from him, I push it forward, slamming it on his nose. There’s a resounding crack upon impact. Dabian finally lets go to touch the wound.
“Damn it, Dorothy. You broke my nose.” He glances at his blood-smeared fingers.
“It’s called fighting, Dabian. You should have protected your face better.”
Master Shogun appears close to us in the next moment, and then he pulls Dabian off me. When he offers me his hand, I ignore it, choosing to jump back on my feet on my own. Twenty pairs of eyes stare at me, but the one gaze I feel the most is Sabrina’s, who is openly glaring at me.
“Well, I believe we have a clear winner today,” Master Shogun announces.
I should feel proud, but the swirling emotion in my chest is not pleasant. Why do I care that these people are angry with me because I hurt their prince?
Sabrina goes to her boyfriend, throwing an arm around his shoulders in support. She whispers something in his ear, which earns a shake of his head before he steps away from her embrace. With a crestfallen expression, she turns to me.
“Forget about coming to Neon City with us.” There’s enough venom in her tone to kill a horse.
I could say forget about getting any credits from me, but I don’t waste my breath. I don’t think she cares about that now as she strides out of the training room.
I don’t move from my spot as Master Shogun dismisses the rest of the class. Instead, I watch them leave in a single file until I’m alone with my teacher.
“I sense great turmoil within you, my dear.” He takes the staff from me.
“It’s nothing.” I shake my head and then head for the door.
Master Shogun places his hand on my arm, halting me. “You are one of the brightest students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching, and yet you’re shrouded in darkness. A living contradiction.”
“That sums it up.”
I glance at the medical bracelet on my left wrist, which is peeking out from underneath my long-sleeved shirt. Grimacing, I pull the sleeve down to cover it. I’m sure Master Shogun didn’t miss the gesture.
“Darkness is not a bad thing, contrary to general belief.”
Turning, I stare the master straight in his eyes. “I know all about yin and yang and how there can be no light without darkness.”
He nods, and after a moment, I continue, “But what if there’s no balance? What if the darkness is winning?”
“Then, you must seek a manner to achieve balance.” He cocks his head to the side as if he’s studying me. “Isn’t it what you have been doing all these years, Dorothy?”
Tensing in an instant, I reinforce the protective walls around my heart. He can’t possibly know the terrible secret I carry.
I glance away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have to go. My uncle is expecting me.”
I’m such a little liar. Can he tell?