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Read an Excerpt From The Deep Sky


Read an Excerpt From The Deep Sky

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Read an Excerpt From The Deep Sky

It is the eve of Earth’s environmental collapse.


Published on June 15, 2023


They left Earth to save humanity. They’ll have to save themselves first.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei, a science fiction thriller about a mission into deep space that begins with a lethal explosion that leaves the survivors questioning the loyalty of the crew—publishing with Flatiron Books on July 18.

It is the eve of Earth’s environmental collapse. A single ship carries humanity’s last hope: eighty elite graduates of a competitive program, who will give birth to a generation of children in deep space. But halfway to a distant but livable planet, a lethal bomb kills three of the crew and knocks The Phoenix off course. Asuka, the only surviving witness, is an immediate suspect.

As the mystery unfolds on the ship, poignant flashbacks reveal how Asuka came to be picked for the mission. Despite struggling through training back on Earth, she was chosen to represent Japan, a country she only partly knows as a half-Japanese girl raised in America. But estranged from her mother back home, The Phoenix is all she has left.

With the crew turning on each other, Asuka is determined to find the culprit before they all lose faith in the mission—or worse, the bomber strikes again.





There were many things Asuka did not consider when she agreed to travel from one sun to another. That is, did not allow herself to consider. Like would she miss lying on her back in rough grass, the scent of damp earth in her nose as she scraped her nails against a real, periwinkle sky. Like would missing her brother sometimes still feel like a hole in her gut (she did not miss her mom). Like did she actually want to live the rest of her life jogging the circumference of a spaceship’s habitat wheel like a hamster looking for a missing drill for Lala Williams.

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The Deep Sky
The Deep Sky

The Deep Sky

Problem was, Lala’s missing drill could be anywhere. All Lala could tell her was that it had a red handle and that Sam may have borrowed it to fix a shelving unit in Agriculture Module C. But it wasn’t among the plants or trays of soil, and Sam swore that Red had borrowed it after her. Red remembered using it to fix a vents issue before returning it to the Bot Maintenance Shop. Where it definitely wasn’t.

Asuka slowed to a walk.

The thing about saying yes to the first (and probably only) one-way interstellar voyage to settle a new world was that there were no take backs.

But at least there was DAR, Digitally Augmented Reality, which meant she never had to consider anything she didn’t want to. On Earth, they had had to wear a vizzy, clunky headgear that enabled the wearer to access DAR, but before they’d left, the crew had chips implanted in their temples that could pipe an alternative reality directly into their brains.

So instead of jogging through a spaceship, Asuka hiked along a worn forest trail, ship invisible underneath. The light was a soft, mottled olive. She wore an old pair of jeans and a faded Del Mar Exotic Bird Sanctuary T-shirt. In the distance, a wood thrush sang hello-goodbye. Soft shadows enveloped her, and she could almost smell the pine, wet after rain. Almost. Also, there were no pesky rocks strewn across her path. She’d deleted them a week ago after tripping over one that wasn’t really there.

Like the rest of the crew of the Phoenix, she had grown up with DAR and was proficient at modifying it, though the base of this one had been designed for her by a professional—only the best for Earth’s heroes.

“Alpha,” Asuka said, as if it was ever necessary to summon their omnipresent ship AI.

Asuka. Alpha’s voice in her ears would be inaudible to the two women flirting in the middle of the trail, too preoccupied to make room for Asuka to pass. She gritted her teeth and said, “Excuse me,” as she pushed around them, banging her elbow painfully against a protruding branch—a water pipe or something underneath the DAR. This was what had made DAR surpass other augmented realities to dominate the global market: it could wrap the whole skin of the world in somewhere else. Perfect when stuck in a small spaceship for decades.

“I’m done looking for Lala Williams’s drill. You got any other jobs for me?” she asked Alpha. Her eye caught a flash of blue in the branches, and she stopped to look. As a child, she had loved birds the way other kids loved dinosaurs, saving all her money to buy a single robin for her DAR. Now, as an adult, her DAR was stocked with the full catalog of RealBirds, and even so, she didn’t tire of the thrill of spotting the denim-blue jacket of a male western bluebird alight on a stump.

I’ll change your status to ‘available.’ Should I mark your current job as ‘complete?’

“Mark it as ‘I give up,’” said Asuka. “That drill has fallen into another dimension.”

While theoretically possible, that seems unlikely.

Asuka was about to snark back when a message appeared from the Captain in the left side of her peripheral vision. Alt. Need you in the EAM five minutes ago. The EAM was the Exterior Airlock Module. They wanted her to do a spacewalk outside.

Asuka shaped words with her hands, composing and deleting several irritable responses including Then you should have asked me five minutes ago and Sorry, I’m busy and Go jump into space, before settling on: Yes, Captain. Because she did like spacewalks.

Unlike the other seventy-nine crew on the Phoenix, Asuka was an Alternate, which meant she didn’t have a job exactly. Her job was just to do whatever was needed and be grateful she’d made the cut by the most microscopic of margins. Her job was not, as Captain McMahon often reminded her, to question orders or her place in the ship’s claustrophobically small community.

Asuka found two of the Ship Maintenance crew and First Vice Captain Ying Yue in the middle of the woods standing between an old cabin and a plywood outhouse, which were, underneath the illusion, the ship airlocks. The airlocks exited out onto the bow and stern sides of the wheel, respectively. On one side of the clearing, heavy black compression suits hung from a clothesline between two fir trees.

Ying Yue was tall, with perfectly shaped eyebrows and a long face that made her seem perpetually surprised. Her hair was close shaven. Buzzcuts weren’t mandatory, but they were popular among the crew. Easier to care for in space. Asuka had grown out her hair instead, and she was teased for being a rebel.

They were already suiting up Kat, one of the Australian reps. She had light blue eyes, picture-perfect freckles, and an impressive quantity of natural self-confidence.

“Look who decided to show up,” Kat said, without maliciousness. “Susie. You’re just in time to witness my last spacewalk.”

“Last one?”

“I’m scheduled for Medical next cycle.” Insemination appointment, she meant. All crew were required to have a baby as part of the mission. And once pregnant, Kat would no longer be eligible for walks.

“It might not happen right away,” said Asuka, for whom it hadn’t.

“It will,” said Kat, fluttering her eyes with pleasure. “My mother had four of us, and each time it was like bam, missile lock. You could say fertility is one of my key qualifications. Well, that, my ability to do multivariable calculus in my head, and my amazing biceps.” She flexed a bare arm and winked at one of the crew trying to fit it into a suit.

“Oh, I thought it was your fully developed ego.” Asuka kept her tone light, but annoyance bubbled up like acid reflux.

Kat laughed.

“All right, Susie?” Ying Yue asked, coming over. She was eight months pregnant with twins, and she was asking Asuka that?

“What’s the mission?” Asuka asked, stripping off her clothes and holding out her arms, then legs, for the other crew to squeeze into a compression suit, size extra small.

“We spotted a thing on the side of the hull in NorthQuad H-18,” said Ying Yue.

“What do you mean, a ‘thing’?” After spending the first ten years of their mission in hibernation, they had woken eleven months ago, as planned, flying through deep, empty space, light-years from anything. Radiation, cosmic rays, star dust, and junk were always a concern, considering the speed they were traveling at. The ship was equipped with a radiation windscreen, nose shield, magnetic field, and advance warning system to protect them and an army of bots and drones to repair any problems as quickly as possible. But they were literally in uncharted territory. The farthest humans had traveled up to this point was Jupiter, so no one really knew what they might find out here.

“Unclear. We can’t tell what it is from the cameras. Looks like a shadow or a smudge. Same when Yaz investigated with a bot. So anyway, the Captain wants you and Kat to go put some au naturel eyeballs on it.” Asuka caught a roll of Ying Yue’s eyes. For some reason, Ying Yue and the Captain didn’t get along. Which was the main reason Asuka liked Ying Yue.

“Is it—does it look artificial?” Something alien, she meant.

Kat laughed. “You’ve been reading too much science fiction. We’re in the literal middle of nowhere.”

Ying Yue offered Asuka a heavy pair of boots.

Hey. What’s the holdup? No time for gossip. The Captain’s words appeared in front of all of them. Despite regularly telling herself she didn’t care what Captain McMahon thought—that her name was only Becky and that she was the same age as the rest of them—Asuka felt her gut tighten.

Just following protocol, Ying Yue replied. And then added something aloud in Mandarin for their ears only, which appeared as subtitles for those who needed it: “You should try it sometime.”

One of the maintenance crew snickered.

“Hold still,” someone said, and the helmet came down over Asuka’s head. She felt them strap the heavy oxygen pack to her back.

“Which of you is carrying the tool kit?” Ying Yue asked, unhooking one of the cases from an old hitching post.

Asuka reached for it, but Kat intercepted. “I’ve got longer arms,” she said. “One of these days you’re going to drop it, and then you’ll be crying ice crystals all the way home.”

“Okay,” Ying Yue said. “But Asuka is Mission Lead.”

Asuka suppressed a groan as they clipped the kit to Kat’s chest. Kat never listened to her.

“They’re good to go,” the other crew confirmed.

“Alpha, last check?” said Ying Yue.

Asuka and Kat obediently held their arms up. The ship AI didn’t see things on the ship in the human sense, but she could sense the nanochips in the clothing they wore and could tell if the suit components were properly fitted.

Everything appears normal.

“All right, then. Everyone clear the EAM.” Ying Yue gave them one last look.

Be careful out there, said Alpha. It’s dangerous.

The cabin door opened, and beyond it was a chamber with cold, white metal walls and a door at the other end with a thick glass window. They stepped inside, and all DAR evaporated. It didn’t work outside the ship.

They waited impatiently as the air hissed out of the airlock. Given the cramped size of the chamber, Asuka was forced to spend this time contemplating the back of Kat’s suit.

“Sounds like the situation in the Pacific is getting spicy,” said Kat.

“Yeah,” Asuka agreed, unsure what Kat was talking about. The typical tension between the usual countries probably. Namely, China and the United States. Asuka didn’t really follow the news as much as she should, but she wasn’t about to admit that to Kat.

“Your mum still live in Tokyo?” Kat asked.

“Maybe,” said Asuka, like she didn’t care. She didn’t know where her mom was now, and it hurt too much to think about.

“What do you mean? Don’t you talk?”


“I thought you two were close.”

“Actually, we’re not.”

Kat contorted herself, but she couldn’t turn her head in the close quarters to look at Asuka. She settled for twisting her faceplate to the ceiling. “What—”

“Can we not, please?”

“Fine. Sorry.” Kat gripped the wheel attached to the door, waiting for the light to turn green. “I broke my cat,” she said softly, like she was making an offering. Her pain for Asuka’s. Except what she was talking about was her truly hideous, pink ceramic cat.

“I’m… so sorry?”

“I know, me too.” Kat’s voice caught like she might cry. She was serious. “I tried to fix it, and I made a mess of it. And I keep thinking how I can’t get another, you know? Because we’re never going home.”

The hexagonal light on the door turned green, and Kat turned the wheel. “Anyway. If this thing out there is something extraterrestrial, I’m going to be the first one to see it. Try and keep up, Susie.”

And Asuka retorted, in a moment she’d regret for the rest of her life: “I’ll race you.”




They stepped out of the airlock onto a metal scaffold facing the stern of the ship, small headlamps flicking on. Without the proximity of the sun or any other star, the Phoenix didn’t have a light side. It was all dark side. And cold as nothing, though she didn’t feel it.

Absence was what Asuka liked best about space. The forced perspective of hearing nothing but her breath in her ears, the blackness, and the billions of distant stars wheeling around them as the ship spun.

“See you later.” Kat took off jogging along the scaffold.

“Hey!” Asuka started after her, already sinking into the familiar rhythm of attaching and detaching her two safety clips—on-off, on-off—as she moved, careful to stay tethered to the safety rail at all times. Kat was getting farther ahead.

The Phoenix was constructed like an umbrella: a protective radiation windscreen and nose shield in front, directly under which were tucked forward-facing engines, ready to deploy for deceleration. The shield was at the front end of a metal shaft that stretched the length of a sports field to the back of the ship, which had immense, retracted, paneled solar sails followed by four rear engines. Between the solar sails and the forward engines, in the middle of the shaft, was their great, spinning habitat wheel, where the crew lived. The wheel spun, generating enough centrifugal force to simulate gravity for the occupants inside—and those standing on the scaffolding that ran along the outside of it on its bow and stern sides.

Asuka imagined the scaffolding that ran on the inside and outside of the wheel looked like lips, and the various modules attached in intervals to the either side of the wheel rim—for Crew Quarters, Sanitation, Drone Operations, et cetera—like the teeth.

The scaffold extended a shoulder width past the widest modules, giving crew easy access for exterior maintenance. The thin metal grate shook with each step, which wasn’t nerve-racking at all. Thanks to the gravity from the spin, they could have been out for a stroll on Earth. If an endless void didn’t surround them on all sides.

“Ladies. Slow down,” said Ying Yue from her spot in the Drone Ops control room inside the ship. She had direct access to their suit and ship exterior camera feeds. She sounded rattled. “Kat, are you not using your clips?”

She wasn’t. Dammit, that’s how Kat was moving so fast, the cheater. Asuka swore and dropped her own clips and began to run faster, but it was hard because she was laughing. The whole thing was absurd. Childish. And it felt good.

Kat whooped so loud the radio squealed. Sure, they were taking risks fooling around like this, and Captain McMahon was definitely going to tear them to pieces after, but for a moment, everything felt normal. Except they were running through space.

Kat reached NorthQuad just as Asuka’s boot caught against the scaffold grate, and she stumbled against the outside of Crew Quarters D. Her heart leapt, but she was all right, totally fine. She gripped the waist-high safety cable that ran along the outside of the scaffold and forced herself to keep moving.

“Need a status update,” said Captain McMahon. She was chewing something, and the wet, smacking noise set Asuka’s teeth on edge. A loud swallow right in her ear. “Do you have eyes on the anomaly yet? Give me details.”

“Almost there, Captain,” said Kat. She began climbing one of the many maintenance ladders a couple meters past the spot to get closer to the location where the thing had been spotted.

Asuka sprinted the final meters to the bottom of the ladder and clipped herself back on. She was just ascending as Kat used metal rungs affixed to the ship’s body to maneuver out to the spot.

“You ever think about how we live our life in constant motion?” Kat’s voice asked in her ear. “Born on a rock spinning through space, and now here we are, rushing off to another. How come we can never just be? We’ve always got to go somewhere.”

Asuka stopped and turned, trying to penetrate the deep darkness all around them. She imagined she could feel the pinpricks of heat from so many stars out there, forming and dying millions of years ago. If she looked backward (she didn’t), she might see how far they’d come—and how insignificant that was against the scale of the universe.

She heard Kat say: “Where did you say it was, Ying Yue? Hang on, I’m caught on something. Okay, but I’m telling you—” There was a flash of something bright as a sun, and then



Excerpted from The Deep Sky. Copyright © 2023 BY Yume Kitasei. Excerpted by permission from Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Author

Yume Kitasei


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