Chapter One In Which Our Heroine Falls on Her Ass, Like, a Lot
As far as scientists have been able to determine, the primary function of the human coccyx, or tailbone, is to remind us that once upon a time we were all monkeys or something. But I happen to know that it can still serve a useful purpose. Say, for example, that a pregnant teenager three weeks from her due date, who weighs, oh, approximately 145 pounds (lay off, all right? The baby loves ice cream), were shoved down forcefully on a Treadtrack in gym class by a bitchy cheerleader. This so-called vestigial growth would most definitely act as a shock absorber, preventing serious damage to the rest of said pregnant chick’s body.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that evolution saved my ass. Well, evolution and the fact that when you’re orbiting the planet this high up, the artificial gravity is bound to be a little more forgiving. But that’s not nearly as poetic.
I guess I should be thanking my lucky stars, seeing as I’m still in one piece, but instead I’m furiously scrambling to yank my pregnant keister off the Treadtrack and away from Britta McVicker.
“Need some help?” she sneers in a tone that I’m sure is supposed to sound sincere. Britta is the aforementioned bitchy cheerleader. We go way back, Britta and I—too far, if you ask me. She doesn’t remember, but I’ve known the girl since she first mocked my Hercules lunch box in second grade. We are the only two students at the Hanover School who knew each other before the school year began. Because apparently the universe is not through punishing me just yet.
I scramble to my feet quickly so that I don’t roll with the Treadtrack all the way into the wall. Balance is not my strongest trait at this point in my pregnancy, but I still have the maturity and poise to flip Britta the bird without stumbling again.
Britta snorts. “Jeez, tubbo,” she says, beginning what I am already positive is going to be one of her classic McVicker slams, “how’d you ever trick anyone into pity screwing you?”
That’s when one of Britta’s innies comes over to take in the scene. She’s this girl who glommed on to Britta the second we launched into orbit and who spends so much time stroking Britta’s ego that in my head I only ever think to call her Other Cheerleader.
“Pity screw or not,” Other Cheerleader says, jerking her head in my direction, “the guy must’ve been blind and
deaf.” And I have to admit, that one stings a little, until she decides to take it a step further. “And had, like, no sense of smell,” she adds. “And he also didn’t have—what’s the other one? Touch. Yeah, he was touchless.”
I bite the inside of my cheek as I yank my sweat shorts down at the hem. I avoid making eye contact with Britta. Would she be so smug if she knew that . . . No, I decide, staring at my shoes. I’m not going to go there. Britta McVicker is not nearly worth it.
But I guess I should’ve gone somewhere
, because before I even notice what’s happening, Other Cheerleader has punched the Treadtrack control, jacking up the speed to max. I topple over again as the exercise track flies under my feet, and I crash into a girl running behind me. She falls on top of me, and together we slam into the wall, the track still running underneath us. The thing damn near burns a hole right through my ugly running shorts.
“Turn off the track!” comes a cry from the far side of the gym. It’s Dr. Marsden, Hanover’s school physician, rushing over to us past the station of Japanese fit-bots, with our PE teacher, Mr. Zaino. Other Cheerleader shuts the track down and tries to put a concerned look on her face. Although, if you ask me, it just looks like she’s eaten too many beans and is holding in a nasty moon rocket. When Dr. Marsden reaches us, he looks down at me with concern. “That was quite a spill, Elvie,” he says kindly, helping me to my feet. “You all right?”
Even though he’s my school doctor and all, I blush a little bit when he takes my hand. I am not
into the whole May–December-romance thing, but you’d have to be from another planet not to think Dr. Marsden is one damn fine specimen of a man, standing nearly two meters tall with broad shoulders and just enough stubble to let you know that he’s sophisticated but still a little dangerous. But I try to play it off cool. “It’s not the last time I’ll fall on my butt,” I say with a shrug.
Zaino is more accusatory than inquisitive. “What happened?” he asks. Zaino’s a pretty good-looking guy himself, although he’s a little too rah-rah about dodgeball to seriously crush on.
Britta gives me this look like, You better not rat me out
, and while nothing would give me more satisfaction than watching her and her doppelganger lackey run laps for the next hour, I know I won’t say anything.
“I just misjudged the speed,” I lie, dusting myself off. I turn to the girl who toppled over behind me on the Treadtrack. It’s this chick from my trig class who is, like, always
chewing on her hair. She’s currently looking at me like I’m the world’s biggest doof—although, hello, she’s the one with an entire braid crammed into her mouth. “Sorry,” I tell her.
She mumbles something in reply, although who can tell what through all that hair?
“Are you sure you’re not hurt?” Dr. Marsden asks again. I look at Britta and smirk a little.
“Well, I am
kinda sore, but I’ll survive,” I say with as much earnest reluctance as I can fake. “I’m mostly just worried about the baby.” I place my hands under my swollen belly and put on my most concerned frown.
The doc nods. “Why don’t you go back to your quarters and lie down for a bit? I’ll give you a pass to skip yoga next period, and we’ll see how you’re feeling at your checkup this afternoon.”
Game and match. I’m pretty sure there’s not one girl on this ship who wouldn’t give her right arm to get out of one day of underwater prenatal yoga.
Chewie spits the braid out of her mouth. “Uh, maybe I should lie down too,” she says.
“Just run it off, Sanderson,” Mr. Zaino replies.
On my way out of the gym, I offer Britta and her friend my smuggest grin.
“Enjoy yoga, ladies,” I tell them.
“I can see your fat ass through the hole in your pants,” Britta shoots back.
I want to ask her if when her baby’s born she’s going to cut the horns off right away, or wait until the kid is older. But I’m a civil sort of gal, and civil sorts of gals don’t say things like that.
Did I not mention earlier that Britta McVicker—former cheerleading captain and most popular girl at Lower Merion—is now simply another knocked-up teenager at the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers, just like me? Due to pop any day now too.
Okay, so it’s not like I actually wanted
to end up preggers in outer space or anything. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be here on this ship, and with Britta McFreakingVicker to boot, I’d’ve told you to check the dosage on your Phezalin prescription. But, you know, shit happens.
I guess, if you want to be specific about it, the first shitty thing that happened was that I got the hots for Cole Archer, which was the perfect example of what my dad would call “one’s loins speaking more loudly than one’s brain.” My dad finally stopped using that expression when I told him that saying the word “loins” was the most psychologically damaging thing a parent could do to a child. But maybe I should have let him stick with it, because when it came to Cole Archer, my brain didn’t stand much of a chance. His eyes were this unearthly blue-green-blue-again that could, like, make you melt or something. And that part wouldn’t have been so bad—the getting the hots and melting, I mean. But somehow that single, solitary time we got steamy, I—hello, biology class!—got knocked up. And then Cole totally bailed, leaving me with one bun and no baker. Which, you know, sucks and stuff.
The second shitty thing that happened was that I was forcibly enrolled at the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers. Since I’m a member of Hanover’s inaugural class, they don’t have a motto yet, but if they ever decide to get one, my vote will be for “Catapulting Troubled Young Ladies into Outer Space Since 2074.” Well, technically we’re in low Earth orbit, but that’s not as catchy. I’ve been here for three full months now, and even though my baby is due to pop fairly soon—the week before Christmas, like someone’s idea of a gag gift—I’ll be spending the rest of my junior year here with all the other Hanover girls. I mean, it’s not like they can just land the whole ship for winter break or anything. I can’t decide if life on board the Echidna
will be better or worse after the baby is born. As meticulously scheduled as my every second is now, I get the feeling that once the Goober arrives and I hand it off to the adoptive services coordinator, I’m going to have a redonk amount of free periods. Which, given the bafflingly terrible connection speeds and limited flat pic library up here, could actually be more of a curse than a blessing.
As I travel the ten levels on the lift from the health and wellness deck up to the living quarters, I decide that a bruised coccyx is a steep but acceptable ...
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