Link (Summer Wier)
$4.99 – $15.99
“A robust, well-realized universe that sparkles with promise.” — Kirkus Reviews
For seventeen-year-old Kira, there’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than being surrounded by friends and huddled beside a campfire deep in the woods. And with a birthday in the peak of summer, that includes late night swims under the stars.
Or at least, it used to.
Kira’s relaxing contemplation of the universe is interrupted when a piece of it falls, colliding with her and starting a chain of events that could unexpectedly lead to the one thing in her life that’s missing—her father.
Tossed into a pieced-together world of carnivals and gypsies, an old-fashioned farmhouse, and the alluring presence of a boy from another planet, Kira discovers she’s been transported to the center of a black hole, and there’s more to the story than science can explain. She’s now linked by starlight to the world inside the darkness. And her star is dying.
If she doesn’t return home before the star’s light disappears and her link breaks, she’ll be trapped forever. But she’s not the only one ensnared, and with time running out, she’ll have to find a way to save a part of her past and a part of her future, or risk losing everything she loves.
Dreamy, fluid, and beautiful, Link pairs the mystery of science fiction with the minor-key melody of a dark fantasy, creating a tale that is as human as it is out of this world.
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Read The First Chapter
I threw the greeting card into the campfire. There was no point reading it; they were always the same. Flames flared around its edges, reducing it to ash. Dusty cinders floated into the air and drifted over the lake.
“Kira.” Fingers snapped within inches of my face.
Startled, I said, “Sorry. What’d you say?”
“Another fake card from your mom’s stockpile?” Faye skewered her marshmallow and held it over the fire.
I grabbed a stick near my feet and poked the smoldering embers. “Yeah. I don’t know why she pretends he keeps in touch, let alone remembers my birthday.”
“Why don’t you just tell her you know she writes them?”
“I don’t want to hurt her feelings. And maybe it helps her cope with being a single parent,” I said with a shrug.
“Or, I don’t know, maybe she’s doing it for you.” Faye waved her stick at me, narrowly missing my hair. “Maybe she wants you to feel like you have a father who cares.”
“Maybe.” I batted the stick away. “But I’m pretty sure it takes more than a few crappy birthday cards to make up for never knowing your daughter. No, she just doesn’t want to admit that he’s never coming back.”
“Don’t you ever wish he would?” she asked, winking. “Aren’t you even a little curious?”
“Nope.” I looked up at the moonlit sky. Freckles of light dotted the heavens. “Only the stars know where he is, and I hope it stays that way.”
“You and your stars.” Faye placed her marshmallow between two graham crackers and pressed them together until white fluff squished over the edges, smearing chocolate onto her fingers.
“Ugh. Can you hold this for a minute?” She handed me her treat, strings of sticky sugar clinging to her manicured nails. After fishing through her backpack with her non S’more-covered hand, she pulled out a pack of wipes and cleaned her fingers. “Look, forget about your dad. It’s not every day you turn seventeen. We’re here to have fun.”
Laughter and cheering erupted from the other side of the campfire. The guys were competing to see who could fit the most marshmallows into their mouth. Zane held the record with fifteen big ones. He looked at me and signaled his standing victory with two thumbs up and a marshmallow-filled grin. Normally, he didn’t love being the center of attention, but this was serious. Defending his reign as Marshmallow King was a matter of pride. Zane tended to watch everything and keep it to himself. His quiet confidence had won him a lot of loud-mouthed football buddies, but he saved his real depth for the friends who knew his heart. For me. I couldn’t help but return his smile; he looked so silly.
“Kira . . . DUCK!” A small projectile flew past my head. The friendly contest had turned into a free-for-all.
“The night wouldn’t be complete without their childlike shenanigans,” Faye joked.
I handed her the S’more. “What do you expect? They’re guys.”
“Exactly.” She leaned over to pick up the dirt-encrusted marshmallow that had landed at her feet. “You and I would never participate in something as juvenile as throwing food for sport.”
“Of course not,” I said, mustering up my best impression of high society ladies. “Unless, you know, it was to teach them a lesson.”
One side of her mouth lifted into a half-smile as her eyes narrowed mischievously. “They’ll never see it coming.” She whipped around and launched it back into the war zone. She reached for a second wipe, ducking just in time to avoid another white, sugary puff whizzing by.
“Watch it!” called a voice from behind us. On the outskirts of our camp, Fischer was absorbed in calibrating his new telescope; I had almost forgotten he was there.
Zane walked over to where we sat, but then passed silently behind us. He tucked his arms behind him, hiding additional ammunition, and crept toward Fischer. I breathed in deep, without even meaning to, as the soft musk of his cologne drifted by. I exhaled slowly, pushing away any thoughts of acting on the emotions burning in my chest. No matter how much I ached to be near him, it was easier to keep Zane at arm’s length than risk putting my heart on the line. Again.
He pelted Fischer in the leg with a marshmallow. “Quit messing with that thing and come join the fun. We’re trying to celebrate a birthday, and you’re looking for space rocks.”
“One more setting.” Fischer knelt down, peering through the scope. “There. It’s ready.”
“Does he really think he’s going to see anything?” Faye asked under her breath.
“Are you kidding?” Fischer interjected. “From up here, I’ll have the best view for miles around. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to catch a rare meteor shower. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Fischer carefully rubbed the telescope lens with a cloth. “Plus, I get extra credit if I capture images. Hope you don’t mind, Kira.”
“Mind? Not at all. You know I love that stuff. It’s fascinating,” I said. “And I’d love to take a look when the event starts.”
“Deal.” Fischer shot Zane a victorious look.
Zane bowed dramatically. “Touché, my friend.”
“So, did Kira tell you she’s decided on a program?” Faye blurted suddenly, clearly past the point of waiting for me to bring it up. I knew I would regret telling her before the others.
“Yeah?” Fischer said.
As Zane straightened out of his bow, his eyes fixed on mine. His face fought between hopeful anticipation and dreaded disappointment. While he, Fischer, and Faye had already locked in their majors, I’d gone back and forth between joining them or attending another university halfway across the territory. I’d just barely made up my mind and had planned to tell them tonight. Of course, Faye couldn’t wait that long to be in the know and had pulled it out of me several days earlier.
I nodded and stared at them for a long minute, dragging the moment out, hoping my excitement didn’t already reveal my choice. “I’ve accepted the offer to join the Astroarcheology program at the Academy.”
If my announcement wasn’t enough to make my heart jump into my throat, the satisfied, relieved grin on Zane’s face was.
“Isn’t it fabulous?” Faye squealed, rapidly stomping her feet in front of her. “We get to be roommates!”
“As long as I don’t fail my senior capstone course,” I said. “I hear Mr. Keenan’s Human Origins and Evolution class is brutal.”
Fischer waved off my concern and flashed an ornery grin. “Oh, you’ll do fine. It’s Zane we have to worry about.”
“Funny,” Zane said, play-punching Fischer in the arm. “You just stick to your space rocks and planet theories. I’ll be busy acing flight school.”
“Just you wait, I’m going to discover something amazing on one of those ‘space rocks,’” Fischer replied as he retreated to his telescope.
“I know you will, man.” Zane’s eyes fell on me in a look that made me feel like I was more amazing than anything he’d see in space. Heat rushed over my cheeks, and I turned my gaze to the fire. The weight of his stare bored into me as he made his way to my side.
Faye popped her lips as she finished applying lip-plumping gloss. “The only rocks I find fascinating are dust diamonds. So, if you see any of those falling from the sky, be sure to let me know.”
I looked at her, then back at Fischer. “How are you two even related? For twins, you guys are night and day.”
Faye rolled her eyes in an exaggerated motion. “Thank goodness!”
“Maybe we could catch a glimpse of extraterrestrials or alien spaceships.” Zane stuck his tongue out and tipped his head to the side as he widened his normally serene green eyes until they looked unnaturally bug-like.
I pressed my lips together, holding back an amused grin. “Maybe we’re the aliens. You certainly look like one when you do that.”
“Speak for yourselves,” Faye said, wrinkling her nose at Zane. “I’m too pretty to be an alien.” Fischer stifled a laugh, prompting Faye to glare at him before continuing.
Laughing lightly, I stood and peeled off my t-shirt. “Well, that’s enough of that. Who’s ready to swim?”
The sweltering heat of the day had lifted, but it was still warm enough for a dip. Whooping and hollering accompanied the mad scramble for towels as shirts flew through the air and we stripped down to our suits. Faye and the others grabbed inner tubes out of the back of Zane’s truck, roping them together to create one massive floating device. I preferred to swim.
I ran into the water and dove as it deepened. Swimming through the cool, crisp waves put distance between me and the shallow banks. When I came up for air, I rolled onto my back. Nothing was as peaceful and relaxing as floating in a mountain lake in the middle of the night. Eyes closed, I hid in the dark, visible only to our moons, floating like two paper lanterns in the starlit sky.
In moments like this, all of my troubles melted away. I forgave my mom a little, for pretending my father cared enough to remember my special day. That’s what dads were supposed to do, right? A little part of me did wish I could meet him. But maybe he didn’t want anything to do with me. If he did, he’d have at least made an effort to meet his daughter. Not leave me to make up his story based on pictures in old photo albums.
But no matter how many times I’d had this conversation with myself, my solution was always the same: forget him. Now, if only my mother would let me. Rippling waves pressed softly against my eardrums, lulling me into the stillness of night, and I pushed thoughts of my dad into the furthest corners of my mind.
A water-muffled shriek shot through the air.
I sat up, flailing, and looked around. My friends were still on the shore. A couple guys were cramming gear into the trunk of their car. Faye and Zane had abandoned the party float and were frantically waving their arms.
“Look out!” Faye jumped up and down.
“Kira, come back,” Zane screamed, hands cupped around his mouth. “Get out of there!”
Was this a joke? Some sort of prank? I turned to look behind me. Shadows lurked on the banks opposite our campsite, but the water was still. Only small ripples lingered as I swam in place.
Then I saw it—a moon-like reflection dancing on the water.
A glowing, white object raced toward the lake. It had appeared so quickly, out of nowhere. My heart sank. Sickness pounded my stomach.
I had to get out of the water.
I swam toward dry land. Each stroke seemed slower and heavier than the last. The thundering roar of the falling object echoed in my ears. Kicking harder, I prayed my effort would be enough to propel me to safety.
The force of the collision shoved me violently down into the water, pummeling my body and knocking the air from my chest. Under the weight of an unknown object, I sank into the murky depths, slamming into the bed of the lake, the grit of sand filling my mouth. I flailed my arms and legs, hoping to free myself. But, to my surprise, there was nothing holding me down.
With one final surge of energy, I kicked upwards. My lungs burned. I was light-headed, unable to focus. The muddy hum of discordant music rushed all around me. I floated to the top, my arms and legs numb. Out of the corner of my eye, a fading white light flickered.
Then everything went black.
Pressure weighed on me, as if the surrounding darkness was a lead blanket. One by one, lights twinkled on and faded away, their rhythm like a silent song. Kira. A familiar voice called to me, pulling me toward a ceiling of stars. The tone’s vibration flickered in time to the lights, as though it controlled their power with its soothing wavelengths.
“Kira. Can you hear me? Wake up.” Zane’s voice.
A pair of hands gripped under my arms and lifted me out of the lake. I struggled for air, coughing up water, choking on sand. Gasping, I inhaled deeply. Breathing had never rendered such relief. My head throbbed, each pulsing heartbeat echoing in my ears. My eyelids were impossibly heavy.
Cradling me, Zane hurried toward dry land. My head bobbed back and forth as he struggled through the knee-deep water. In his haste, we toppled over more than once. The warm, balmy liquid was now unbearably frigid. I tried to hold on, but each time we splashed into the icy bath, my arms became more and more useless.
“Z-Zane,” I stuttered through chattering teeth.
The moisture from his breath seeped into the frosty air when he spoke. “It’s going to be all right. You’re going to be all right.”
“Kira?” It was Faye’s voice. “Is she—”
“She’s breathing. She’s alive,” Zane said.
“What was that thing? It fell out of the sky, and then nothing,” Faye said, dazed. “No rock, no meteor, not even a UFO. Did you see how it lingered on the lake? Dancing like . . . I don’t know, liquid fire melting into the water.”
“We can’t worry about that right now,” Zane said. “We need to dry Kira off, warm her up. ”
I forced my eyes to open into slits. Faye stood, frozen, looking like she might burst into tears at any moment as we stumbled past.
“Hurry! Get towels or a sleeping bag, whatever you can grab.” Zane lowered me to my feet and opened the rear door of his truck. My legs gave out beneath me, but before I slumped to the ground, he had me in his arms again. “Stay with me, Kira. I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I tried to speak, but nothing came out. A weak smile was all I could manage in response.
Faye returned with some beach towels and spread them over the rough, tweed-like upholstery.
Zane helped me into the truck and tossed a folded towel at Faye. “Use this to hold her head. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Her eyes widened. “But . . . but . . . there’s bloo—”
“Kira needs you, Faye,” he said, as he spread the last towel over me. “You can do this.”
As we traveled down the rough gravel road, the truck jerked violently on a series of potholes. My whole body ached, but the warm, dry towels had restored some of the feeling to my arms and legs. I was relieved that I could move my fingers and toes.
Faye smiled when she saw me wiggling them. “You’re going to be okay.”
Warm liquid oozed over my temple and trickled down my cheek. I reached to touch it, but she stopped me. “Am I bleeding?”
“Only a little,” Faye said. Her normally warm, glowing skin looked a sickly green. She wiped my face with the corner of a towel. “Looks like you bumped your head.”
Zane reached over the seat, handing his cell phone to Faye. “Call Kira’s mom. Tell her to meet us at the hospital. We should have reception now.”
I peered out Faye’s window and into the night sky. The passing stars were dim compared to the searing brilliance of the object at the lake. Watching them made me dizzy. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to overcome a surge of motion sickness as I tried to recall details about what had forced me under the water.
Blinding light. Unshakable cold. A faint, high-pitched vibration. I’d heard it before, many times, its familiar whistle drifting from some faraway place. Tonight, it was different. Close. All around me. Even now, shrill melodies resonated inside my head, pulsing through my temples.
“She’ll meet us there,” Faye said, handing the phone back to Zane. I was so focused on trying not to be sick that I had completely zoned out of their conversation.
Cell phone reception meant we were almost to the main road, only minutes from town and the hospital. I just wanted to go home, snuggle up in my bed, and sleep. Under the weight of the towels, my body seemed to melt into the seat.
Jumbled images flashed through my mind. A prick of déjà vu flooded me, the memories familiar, reminiscent of a dream, but not my own. Vivid colors painted scenes of flourishing landscapes from unfamiliar places. People abandoned ancient cities; fear-stricken voices cried out. Some fought. Most fled. Darkness engulfed them all.
A single burst of light escaped.
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