by Reintgen, Scott

Recruited by a mysterious corporation for a mission in outer space, an ordinary teen joins a group of fellow travelers, each of whom must earn the right to travel down to a paradise planet where the universe's most valuable mineral has been discovered. Simultaneous eBook.

Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms. He hopes that his former students see themselves, vibrant and on the page, in characters like Emmett. You can follow him on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter at @Scott_Thought.

Kids endure rigorous competition aboard a spaceship.When Babel Communications invites 10 teens to participate in "the most serious space exploration known to mankind," Emmett signs on. Surely it's the jackpot: they'll each receive $50,000 every month for life, and Emmett's mother will get a kidney transplant, otherwise impossible for poor people. They head through space toward the planet Eden, where they'll mine a substance called nyxia, "the new black gold." En route, the corporation forces them into brutal competition with one another—fighting, running through violent virtual reality racecourses, and manipulating nyxia, which can become almost anything. It even forms language-translating facemasks, allowing Emmett, a black boy from Detroit, to communicate with competitors from other countries. Emmett's initial understanding of his own blackness may throw readers off, but a black protagonist in outer space is welcome. Awkward moments in the smattering of black vernacul ar are rare. Textual descriptions can be scanty; however, copious action and a reality TV atmosphere (the scoreboard shows regularly) make the pace flow. Emmett's first-person voice is immediate and innocent: he realizes that Babel's ruthless and coldblooded but doesn't apply that to his understanding of what's really going on. Readers will guess more than he does, though most confirmation waits for the next installment—this ends on a cliffhanger. Fast-moving and intriguing though inconsistent on multiple fronts. (Science fiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

DAY 1, 8:47 A.M.
Aboard Genesis 11
“You all know why you’re here.”
There are ten of us at the table. We all nod like we even have  a clue.
Eight of the richest men and women in the world stand at the opposite end of the conference room. Last night, I used PJ’s phone to look them up. Babel Communications. Swallowed Google back in 2036. Some blogger says they’re NASA’s dark little shadow and have been for decades. Whatever they do, they look good doing it. Each of them wears the same charcoal suit. It looks like someone threaded smoke into formal wear. The overheads dance off all the polished shoulders and shoes.
But the lights and the room and the world are bending forward to hear the man who’s speaking: Marcus Defoe. He’s black, but not like me. I’ve spent half my life feeling like an absence, a moonless night. I can’t imagine this guy going anywhere without turning heads. Everything about him whispers king. It’s in the set of his shoulders and the sound of his voice and the quiet power of his walk. He glides toward us, and a series of warning signs flash through my head. One glance is enough to know he’s the most danger- ous man in the room.
Leaning back, I pull one of my earbuds out. My music was playing low-key but the Asian kid next to me keeps looking over like it’s  the loudest thing he’s  ever heard. Tough luck. I leave the volume up just to grind at him. When Babel recruited me, they said all of this was a game. I like playing games, but I like winning games even more. The stiff next  to me shakes his head in annoyance, and I already feel like I’m up a few points on him.
The earpiece bleeds half beats and old-soul voices. Peo- ple at school think I like early hip-hop ’cause it’s vintage, but the truth is I could never afford the new stuff. When my neighbor glances over for the thousandth time, I nod and smile like we’re going to be best friends.
“You were chosen to be at the forefront of the most serious space exploration known to mankind. The results of your mission will change the outlook for our species.” Defoe goes on to talk about humanity, manifest destiny, and final frontiers. His head is shaved and perfectly round. His smile is blinding. His eyes are so stunningly blue  that the girls at school would call them the color of boom. Babel’s king has a single imperfection: His right hand is withered, like  a giant took its sweet time breaking each and every bone. It’s the kind of injury you’re not supposed to look at, but always do. “The reward for your efforts will be beyond your imagination. A trust fund has already been established  for each of you. A check for fifty thousand dollars will be put into your account every month for the rest of your lives.”
Everyone at the table perks up. Straighter shoulders, wider eyes, less fidgeting. We all react to the numbers because we all must be dead-dancin’ broke. Except one kid.
He looks bored. King Solomon just tossed us the keys to the kingdom, and he’s hiding yawns? I take a closer look. He’s white. I fact-check the table and realize he’s the only white boy here. American? Maybe. Could be European. He’s sporting a plain three-button shirt. He drums his fingers distractedly on the table, and I spot a tag under one armpit. So the shirt’s a recent purchase. His hair looks deliberately imperfect, like he wanted to seem more down-to-earth. When he glances my way, I set both eyes back on Defoe again.
“Beyond monetary stability, we are also offering our medical plans for your families. They now have free access to health care, counseling, surgery, and the most advanced treatments for cancer and other terminal diseases. Those services come without a price tag, and they’re offered in perpetuity.”
I don’t know what perpetuity means, but some of the kids around the table are nodding wisely. Two of them flinched at the word cancer. One’s a girl with blond hair, blue eyes, and enough makeup to place in a pageant. I spy a strand  of pink-dyed hair tucked behind one ear. The other kid is really tan with bright brown eyes. Middle Eastern’s my guess. I wonder if their parents have cancer. I wonder if that’s how Babel roped  them into this monkey-in-space routine. I wonder if they noticed me flinch right around the same time they did.
It’s hard to hear the words that follow, because an image of Moms has snagged my attention. Those bird-thin wrists circled by medical bracelets. We spent enough time in the ICU that the hospital started feeling like a prison. Only difference is that some diseases don’t grant parole.
“. . . we offer stock options with our company, internal connections with any business in the world, and an opportunity to put your name in the history of the human race. Desmond is passing out a gag order. If you’re still interested, just sign on the dotted line.”
One of the lesser suits makes the rounds. He sets hot-off-the-presses forms in front of each of us. I can’t stop staring at the massive gold watch on his wrist. In less-promising circumstances, I’d whoops my way out of my chair, slip it off his wrist, and stranger my way out of the room before he knew which way was west. But life is good, so I carefully skim a paragraph with words like privatization and extrajudicial. On my left, the Asian kid considers a strange gathering of symbols. The girl on my right’s reading something that looks a little beyond the reach of my high school Spanish. I almost laugh, thinking we’re the politically correct version of the Justice Squad. But if Babel’s looking for heroes, they picked the wrong guy.
I sign on the dotted line and try to look like I didn’t just win the lottery.
The suits whisper million-dollar secrets. Defoe prowls a casual, predatory circle to make sure we’re all being good little boys and girls. I hit next on my shuffle and a nice unfiltered beat drops. Two voices duet their way to a bare-bones chorus. They trade lyrics until it feels like I’m back in the concrete jungle, ciphering and laughing with the Most Excellent Brothers.I miss the boys already, especially PJ. Our neighborhood’s pretty full of dead ends, though, and Babel’s offering a way out. I don’t know what their offer means to the other kids around the table, but to me it means Moms getting her name at the top of the transplant lists. It means Pops not working night shifts. It means three meals a day and more than one pair of jeans.
To me, this is  everything.

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