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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2010-02-12
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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"Mr. Cruse, how high would you like to fly?"A smile soared across my face. "As high as I possibly can." Pilot-in-training Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, expert on high-altitude life-forms, are invited aboard the Starclimber, a vessel that literally climbs its way into the cosmos. Before they even set foot aboard the ship, catastrophe strikes: Kate announces she is engaged-and not to Matt. Despite this bombshell, Matt and Kate embark on their journey into space, but soon the ship is surrounded by strange and unsettling life-forms, and the crew is forced to combat devastating mechanical failure. For Matt, Kate, and the entire crew of the Starclimber, what began as an exciting race to the stars has now turned into a battle to save their lives. Award-winning and bestselling author Kenneth Oppel brings us back to a rich world of flight and fantasy in this breathtaking new sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker.



Chapter One

The Celestial Tower

Rising into the wind, I flew, Paris spread before me.

For the first time in my life I was at the helm, though my ship was a humble one, and not my own. Aboard the Atlas we didn't even use terms like "captain" or "first mate." This was no fancy airship liner or private yacht; she was just an aerocrane, forty feet from stem to stern, but she was mine to command for the summer, and I loved every second of it.

"Elevators up five degrees, please," I told Christophe, my copilot. "Throttle to one half."

As the drone of the engines increased in pitch, I put the ship into a gentle starboard turn. We climbed, and I brought the Atlas about so that we faced the construction site. Though I had gazed upon it almost every day for two weeks now, the view still filled me with awe.

Rising three kilometers above the earth was the base of the Celestial Tower. Massive metal piers and arches supported its platforms, each one large enough to hold a city. The third platform had just been completed, and work on the next level was well under way, great spans of metal jutting skyward. Gliding over the site were dozens of aerotugs, delivering materials and prefabricated sections of piers to waiting work crews. From all across the tower came the flash of welders' torches, fusing together girders. Already the tower was ten times higher than the Eiffel Tower, but it had much farther yet to go.

It was meant to reach all the way to outer space.

There was so much airship traffic around the construction site that it had its own harbor master. His voice crackled over our radio now, giving us our approach instructions. Hanging from the Atlas's winch was a three-story-tall section of support pier to be delivered to the tower's northern side. I turned the rudder wheel and brought us onto our proper bearing, circling the tower in a wide arc.

"Did you hear," said Christophe, "that already they have named it the Eighth Wonder of the World?" Christophe was a Parisian, and extremely proud of the tower. He seemed to have an endless supply of information about it.

I nodded. "I saw it in the Global Tribune this morning."

"How high you reckon they're going to build this thing?" asked Andrew, coming forward from the cargo area, wiping his greasy hands with a rag. He was the winch operator, a hefty, red-faced fellow from Angleterre who'd moved to Paris, like so many others, to find work on the tower.

"I heard a hundred kilometers," I said.

Christophe sucked his tongue in disagreement. "Non, non, ce n'est pas vrai. I heard at least a thousand."

"Suits me," said Andrew. "The higher they go, the longer I have a job. At these wages, I'll be retired with me own castle before long."

I too felt lucky. Piloting an aerotug for the summer would fund my final two terms at the Airship Academy. The French had hired tens of thousands of workers from all around the world. It was the greatest construction project in the history of mankind. The French boasted it made the Great Pyramids look like an afternoon garden project. Nothing, they said, would topple it. It was designed to sway, to bend with the elements, but it would never break. I hoped they were right, because if it ever did, it would fall over half of Europa.

"I thought it was meant to go all the way to the moon," said Hassan, our Moroccan spotter, coming forward to peer out the windows of the control car.

"How could they do that, you numbskull?" said Andrew, whose tone was often a bit bullying. "The moon orbits around us, doesn't it? We can't go tying ourselves to it! We'd get all yanked about."

Hassan nodded amiably. "Yes, I can see that would not be desirable."

"At the summit of the Celestial Tower," said Christophe with patriotic confidence, "they will launch a fleet of ships to travel into outer space, first to the moon and then beyond."

This certainly seemed to be the government's plan. All over Paris, buildings were plastered with posters, paris to the moon! or the martian riviera! and showed chic ladies and gentlemen strolling through crystal lunar palaces or along red Martian beaches. Another poster proclaimed, our brave spationauts! and had a group of fit young men in silver suits, fists against their hips, staring arrogantly into the heavens.

"What I'd like to know," said Andrew, "is where they're finding these fellows daft enough to go into outer space."

"They've set up some kind of special training facility, haven't they?" I said.

"I have heard this also," said Christophe wistfully.

"I think our Christophe here wants to be a spationaut." Andrew sniggered.

"I am desolate I do not have the skills," said Christophe, and he did manage to sound quite desolate when he said it.

"What about you, Matt?" Hassan asked. "If they asked, would you go?"

"In a heartbeat."

"You're a madman," said Andrew. "Couldn't drag me up there, not in a million years."

"Of course, they will be selecting only Frenchmen"—Christophe sniffed—"so no need for you to worry."

"The French are welcome to space," said Andrew, "the entire black puddle of it."

I didn't share Andrew's disdain. As cabin boy aboard the Aurora I'd spent lots of time in the crow's nest staring at the stars. Their constellations blazed with myths and legends. I'd always wondered what it would be like to go farther, to get closer. At the Academy last term we'd studied celestial navigation, and now the night sky beckoned with even greater intensity.

But for now, space was for the French, just as Christophe said, and I'd have to be satisfied with helping them achieve their dreams. I didn't feel too sorry for myself. My own dreams at the moment didn't live in outer space anyway, but much closer to earth.

Starclimber. Copyright © by Kenneth Oppel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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