Zoe rolled her eyes.
Oooh, said Kate. Touchy.
Zoe flicked her hair back, suddenly irritated.
Listen, Kate said, its that time of the month and Ive got a blaster, so dont start.
Zoe looked carefully at her, gauging the extent to which things might now be back to normal between them. It was hard to tell. Kate might be smiling, or she might not. This was the thing with Stormtroopers: they only showed the multipurpose expression molded into the face plates of their helmetsa hard-wearing, wipe-clean, semimournful expression equally appropriate for learning that ones soufflé, or ones empire, had fallen.
Command module of the Death Star
The battle station hung in the cold black vacuum of space. Sophie Argall could feel the vast metal mass of it under her feet. It was huge. It had its own gravity, though it didnt seem as strong as Earth gravity. Sophie realized there was extra bounce in her legs. Standing on the bridge of the Death Star was like standing at home would be, if Dr. Hewitt had just told you that your leukemia had gone into remission.
Sophie reviewed the data. She was eight. The Death Star was younger. Sophie didnt know by how much. The Death Star was defended by 10,000 turbo laser batteries and 768 tractor beam projectors. A crew of 265,675 kept it running, kept it clean, and did the cooking and laundry for 52,276 gunners, 607,360 troops, 25,984 Stormtroopers, 42,782 ship support staff, and 167,216 pilots and technicians. Despite these precautions, both the Death Stars built before this one had been destroyed. Statistically, the chances of a Death Star surviving combat were zero. The chances of Sophie surviving acute lymphoblastic leukemia were better than ninety percent. When you considered the odds, it was presumptuous of the battle station to be exerting a gravitational pull on her.
Sophie knew the stats by heart. She had drawn pictures of the Death Star a thousand times, in felt tip and in crayon, but nothing had prepared her for standing here, on the bridge, looking out through the portholes at the stars. She listened to the low electronic hum of control circuits and the soft cool hiss of the air conditioning.
They had taken the Argall family cara silver-gray Renault Scénicto the spaceport at the film studios: Sophie, her parents, and Zoe. The car ride had taken three hours and thirty-six minutes, which Sophie had timed using the stopwatch feature on her iPod. Shed listened to the original Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra. Shed made crosshairs with her fingers and aimed them out of the windows on the motorway. The Nissans and the Fords were friendly Rebel craft. The Mercedes and the BMWs were hostile TIE fighters.
Theyd used a transporter to get from the film studio car park to the Death Star. It had taken forty-nine seconds. The transporter had looked like an ordinary lift, but it hadnt been. Dad had been captured with her, as soon as they stepped out of the transporter. As far as Sophie knew, Mum and Zoe remained at liberty somewhere within the Death Star.
Sophie was still amazed to be here. She had to keep looking down at herself, to check that all the atoms in her arms and legs had made it okay through the transporter beam.
Two Stormtroopers patrolled the bridge in their pristine white armor. They checked the settings of every switch on every control panel. They spoke to each other in terse, metallic voices. Their helmets had full visors so you couldnt see their faces, but you could tell they were nervous. There was a rumor that Darth Vader was arriving in his personal shuttle. Sophies mouth was dry and her heart pounded. She held her dads hand and squeezed tightly.
Excerpted from Gold by Chris Cleave. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Cleave. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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