"Girls," I said, plopping down next to Theodore. "They're the aliens!"
"Max again?" he mumbled. His face was pressed against the glass portal that ran the length of the shuttle.
"I don't get what she has against Space Jumpers."
"It's pretty simple, JT. Citizens don't trust them."
"But we're not Citizens," I reminded him.
"We want to be."
I looked up to sneak another glimpse at the Citizens relax¥ing on the mezzanine above my head. It was just high enough to make me feel inferior. The Citizens dined the entire trip to Orbis 3, reclining on puffy loungers decorated with green and gold Gia silks. We sat huddled together on cold aluminum benches and ate only what we brought. There were four other knudniks traveling with us, and they sat obediently near the feet of their respective Guarantors. When ordered, they bolted up the short set of steps to administer whatever mundane or demeaning task was imposed upon them. I hated the Citizens, but Theodore was right; I still wanted to be one.
"What are you looking at?" I turned and asked him.
"I'm trying to see the wormhole. This is the closest any shuttle ever gets. Eight thousand, four hundred, and thirty-three kilometers."
I squeezed next to him and peered out the portal into the stars.
"I see Orbis 3." I gestured to the huge ring hanging in space. "But where is the wormhole?"
Theodore pointed. "Look, there. See how the crystal moon bends a little? The wormhole does that. We must be directly in front of it."
I watched the heavy orange moon Ki pinch and distort as our huge space shuttle lumbered toward our new home. What will our new Guarantor be like? I wondered, but I had already resigned myself to the fact that knowing who it was wouldn't make him any nicer.
"Look!" Theodore said, pulling away from the window and holding up both hands in front of his face. It seemed as if some invisible force were tugging at his skin, stretching it toward the wormhole. "It's happening to you, too."
It was happening to everything. One of the Citizens above Dalton poured his drink over the edge, and the greenish liquid appeared to smear across the cabin before it splashed onto Dalton's head, much to the delight of the other Citizens.
"Hey!" Dalton protested, but the Citizens only applauded or stomped their feet. Would they even notice us missing if the shuttle ripped open and sucked all of us into space? Would they even care? I wondered. Then the alien ordered Dalton to clean up his mess.
"It's an optical illusion," Theodore said. "The wormhole is bending the light before it reaches our eyes."
I turned my attention back toward the wormhole and immediately noticed that something wasn't right. Directly in front of me, Orbis 3 and the crystal moon were bending and twisting violently. That's more than an optical illusion, I thought. Something was coming through the wormhole.
"Is that supposed to happen?" I elbowed Theodore.
With a crackle of bright blue light, a spaceship pierced the blackness of space. The ship was the color of charred metal and rimmed with flashing red lights. It was much longer than our shuttle and twice as tall. It pushed through the wormhole - straight toward us.
"It's gonna hit us!" I cried, but the huge vessel turned portside and saddled next to us. Harsh searchlights from the ship splashed through our cabin.
"Wormhole pirates!" one of the Citizens screamed.
"But that's impossible!" another exclaimed.
"What's a wormhole pirate?" Maxine Bennett cried as she clambered next to us.
"I don't know," I said.
"You have to get Theylor," Theodore whispered quickly.
The Keeper Theylor was seated above the Citizens in a small compartment reserved for those who rule the Rings of Orbis. I moved toward the steps, wondering if the Citizens would let me pass, when our shuttle lurched forward and threw me to the ground. I saw Theylor spring from his cabin.
"Get back to your seat, Johnny," Theylor called out to me with his left head. His right head dipped to focus on the ship's portal. He moved so fast that his thick purple robe blurred with his transparent blue skin as he shifted between the Citizens.
I dashed back to my seat and squeezed next to Theodore. My little sister, Ketheria, was there now, too. In fact, everyone had moved to the starboard side to gawk at the mysterious ship that was now upon us. The vessel was so close it filled the entire portal. Painted on the side of the ship was an alien skull posed over gnarled crossbones. I watched three bay doors crack open on the side of the pirates' spaceship and thick mechanical arms unfold from each opening. Once untangled, they clamped onto our shuttle, and the impact knocked even more people to the floor.
"What are wormhole pirates?" Max shouted, pulling herself back up.
But none of us answered. No one knew. Theylor now stood at the top of the steps and faced the hatch. Both of his heads spoke at the same time. "Children, stay where you are."
I asked Theylor, "What's happening?"
"A hostile vessel has emerged from the wormhole. Security will be upon them - "
But heavy pounding on our shuttle door interrupted Theylor's warning.
One Citizen screamed, "You can't let them in!" as she raced to remove her jewelry and hide it in the loungers.
But whoever wanted inside was coming anyway.
WUMP! The shuttle hatch crumpled inward. WUMP! And the seal to the metal hatch broke. Ketheria covered her ears as the escaping pressure screeched through the cabin. I swallowed frantically, trying to adjust to the pressure change. One more wallop and the hatch crashed to the floor. Someone screamed.
Excerpted from The Softwire: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis 3 by PJ Haarsma. Copyright © 2010 by PJ Haarsma. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.