From the author of Sandcastle Empire, Kayla Olson brings us a high-stakes thriller — in space! Check out our exclusive cover reveal of This Splintered Silence!
About ‘This Splintered Silence’
She thought it was over. It was only the beginning.
Lindley Hamilton has been the leader of the space station Lusca ever since all first generation crew members on board, including her mother, the commander, were killed by a deadly virus.
Lindley always assumed she’d captain the Lusca one day, but she never thought that day would come so soon. And she never thought it would be like this—struggling to survive every day, learning how to keep the Lusca running, figuring out how to communicate with Earth, making sure they don’t run out of food.
When a member of the surviving second generation dies from symptoms that look just like the deadly virus, though, Lindley feels her world shrinking even smaller. The disease was supposed to be over; the second generation was supposed to be immune. But as more people die, Lindley must face the terrifying reality that either the virus has mutated, or something worse is happening: one of their own is a killer.
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I find my mother in the shadows—like the shell of a hollow moon, on the verge of crumbling to dust. Like I might not make it in time even though she’s a mere twenty feet away.
“Hello?” My voice bounces from the steel-gray walls, from the shale-slab tile, from the panorama of glass that separates the inside of our station from the glittering ocean of stars. “Mom?”
If she hears me, she doesn’t show it.
She’s curled on her side on the floor, her back to me, her small frame barely moving. Still breathing—technically. I rush to kneel beside her and am relieved to see her eyes wide open, taking in the view. It is less of a relief to see the spattering of blood nearby, fresh ruby droplets smaller than strawberry seeds.
“Mom?” I sweep a thick wave of hair away from her face, tuck it behind her ear. “It’s me, Lindley. Mom, can you hear me?”
Her eyelashes flutter, not quite a blink, but it’s something. My heart climbs into my throat—I wish she’d look at me. “LeeLee,” she says, her voice hoarse from all the coughing she’s done today. “Fireflies, so many . . . pass me the jar?”
I blink until my eyes clear. She’s speaking total nonsense, which is more frightening than I’m ready to admit. I’ve never seen her anything but composed—her mind is sharp, and it’s fast. She was an easy pick for commander of our station, according to the rest of the team. My entire life, forever, everyone has always made a point to tell me exactly how much they adore her. How brilliant she is, how incredible. How she makes it look easy to lead with such calm confidence. Not that anyone needs to tell me—I know her better than anyone. But I’ve never seen her like this, out of her mind, not even this morning. Not even an hour ago.
At least she still knows who I am.
I type out a fast text to Dr. Safran, emergency and observation deck 12 starboard and my mother.
There are no fireflies here on the station, of course, let alone an entire jar full of them; she must be digging far back into her past, to all the years she spent on Earth. I can’t even begin to count the number of times she’s told me the story of that hot summer night when she was just six years old: how she and her father had set off for one of their evening walks, through the thick forest behind her childhood home. How they’d stumbled upon hundreds of swarming fireflies—thousands, maybe—and she caught enough in her jar to light their path. The sky outside our station window reminded her of that night, she loved to tell me. Stars like fireflies: they reminded her of him.
My buzz screen vibrates, and I glance at the message—Dr. Safran is on his way.
When I look up again, time tilts on its axis. I suck in a breath so sharp I’m surprised I’m not bleeding.
Her eyes are closed.
She is still, too still in every way.
My hands shake, badly, so much so that my buzz screen nearly shatters on the tile.
I squeeze my eyes shut—I can’t bear to look, but I can’t bear to leave. LeeLee, her voice echoes in my head. Her voice that I’ll never hear again, ever. LeeLee, LeeLee. What I wouldn’t give to hear, one last time, about trees taller than giants and the smell of fresh rain and the way her father’s eyes crinkled when he smiled and the thousand thousand fireflies bright enough to light up the night.
I could use a jar of my own right now.
But there are no fireflies here, and no one left but me who remembers the story.
No him. No her.
My mother once told me—before she died, before her colleagues died, before everyone who wasn’t born here on the station died—that each soul is tied to a star, a trail of stardust the tether. As long as the sky is full of stars, and as long as there are people alive to see it, there is hope.
She was the first to flicker, fade, blink to utter blackness.
She never saw the sky after the disease left its mark on us.
One hundred stars have gone out in the past six weeks, extinguished and smothered and choked and simply—whoosh—blown out—by the CRW-0001 pathogen. One hundred out of the one hundred who were sent here eighteen years ago. One hundred percent.
We are parentless. Mentorless. Medicless. Chefless. Commanderless. Less and less and less. It’s been five days since the last of them passed: five days of embers and ashes and choking down the stench of death, and our grief, so we don’t fall apart. Five days spent picking up the pieces of all the broken everything. All the broken everyone.
Before he passed—three weeks, two days, two hours, and fifty-six minutes ago—Dr. Safran, head medic and my mentor for the last three years, concluded definitively that only those who’d spent significant time on Earth were susceptible to CRW-0001. They’re the only ones who coughed up blood. The only ones whose lungs shriveled, whose breaths became forced and far between. Their words sounded like whispers pricked with a thousand splinters as they fought, hard, just to be heard.
Until the silence took over and, one by one, the stars went out.
In my not-so-expert opinion, I believe in Dr. Safran’s theory. I don’t know what dirt feels like, not on Earth, not on any planet. None of us do, none of us who are left. All the air we’ve ever breathed has been recycled for twenty years inside these thick walls, steel and plexiglass—we are a tiny dot stationed amid an extraordinary universe. Not one of us, the second generation, has coughed up a single drop of blood. We are louder than ever, now that no one tells us not to be.
We are also quieter than ever. One hundred percent of us have lost someone who meant the entire universe.
And in the midst of the losing, there are six of us who’ve stepped up. We’ve never led before, don’t really know how to lead, but there is a need. So here we are, the six of us fumbling our way through a world that just became one hundred stars darker.
At least there are five billion trillion stars left.
Five billion trillion stars, though, are not enough light to show me this: Why is Mila Harper, age sixteen, lying dead on the cold, cold floor of the observation deck?
About the author
Kayla Olson was raised in a small town in Texas where an infinite sea of stars still fills the night sky. Her parents met while working at NASA, so it only makes sense that she would inherit their love of space. Before Kayla was an author, she spent her time making both music and lattes—now, she spends her days with her family surrounded by a thousand ideas waiting to be written, black coffee in beautiful mugs, a friendly pair of cats, and her faithful and forgiving succulents. Her first novel is The Sandcastle Empire.