By Isabella Biedenharn
February 19, 2016 at 03:00 PM EST

J. Patrick Black’s Ninth CIty Burning is set 500 years after an alien invasion nearly wipes out the human race — and the situation on Earth is dire. If you aren’t pro-war, and perhaps spending your days in a military training academy, you’re doomed to fight for your life on a ruined earth. Though it may not be the most uplifting of books, Ninth City Burning is sure to satisfy your action-packed sci-fi needs — and to give you a taste, EW has your exclusive cover reveal and excerpt below.

Ninth City Burning hits shelves September 6, 2016.

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black

part one: multiplication of impossibilities

Jax

We’re only a few minutes into our quiz when the sirens start, and the first thing I feel is relief even though I know that’s totally wrong, totally not how I should feel. I can still remember the panic, the terror that used to come over me when I heard the atmospheric-incursion siren, the signal that our city is under attack. And I know that’s how all the kids around me must be feeling this very second. But it’s different for me now. Once the first shock of the wailing siren passes, it’s true I’m afraid too, but it isn’t the same kind of fear I used to feel. It’s more like fear of letting everyone down, and even that’s not so bad yet though I know it’s going to get worse. But for a moment, just a moment, there was that relief because I’m totally not prepared for this quiz, which I know is crazy because what kind of person is like, Oh great, I won’t have to take a quiz because everybody is going to die.

I’m not a bad student, really. Even in biology, which is the subject of this quiz, which is about photosynthesis, which is how plants turn sunlight into energy. The trouble is, whenever I sit down to study, I end up picking up the Academy Handbook. It isn’t a long book, but each time I finish I just flip back to the beginning, like maybe if I read it one more time, I’ll find the answer I need. Like maybe I just missed it the other hundred million times. But even though the Handbook has all the rules for life at the Academy, it doesn’t tell me the one thing I really need to know. Oh, and there’s nothing about photosynthesis, either.

“Pencils down, cadets.” That’s Danyee, our rhetor. Everyone in Sixth Class Section E has her for biology, physics, and irrational mechanics. She had been pacing the rows of desks, looking over our shoulders one by one, but at the sound of the siren, she walked to the front of the room. “In line by the door, please,” she says, her voice calm, almost cheerful, like this is just another lesson.

All around, there is the sound of chairs creaking from beneath desks. Near the back of the room, a girl gives a little squeal of panic: Her pencil is still scribbling away. She smacks it down like someone swatting a fly, then glances up to see if anyone’s noticed. We all have, including Rhetor Danyee, who takes the girl by the hand and leads her to the line of cadets forming by the door. Using an artificed pencil during any kind of test is totally against the rules, as anyone who’d even picked up the Academy Handbook would know. On a normal day, this girl would be in for some big-time trouble, but not today. Rhetor Danyee, who is usually pretty tough, gives the girl’s hand a reassuring squeeze before ushering her into line. If they’re still alive tomorrow, they can talk about punishment then.

I’m cadet 6-E-12, meaning Sixth Class Section E Seat Twelve, so I take my place twelfth from the door. As I walk down the line, I can feel the other cadets watching me—not staring because you’re supposed to be face forward when you’re in formation, but from the corners of their eyes. My uniform is the same gray as any other cadet’s, and on my collar I have the same six black pips as everyone in Sixth Class, but there isn’t a person in this city who would mistake me for a normal kid. The symbol I wear at my neck, a golden circle with a second circle inside, is just a reminder. During school hours, everyone is expected to pretend like I’m just another student at the Academy, but that’s all they can really do: pretend.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten used to everyone’s looking at me differently, gotten used to setting off whispers everywhere I go. It isn’t like people are mean to me. If anything, they’re extra, extra nice. Actual officers will stop and salute me, or congratulate me, or ask to shake my hand. I’ve made a lot of friends since starting at the School of Rhetoric, and my friends from before are still my friends. The kids in Section E seem proud to have me, usually. But not today. Today, things are different. Today, everyone’s nervous. They know that in a little while, their lives could depend on me.

Of all the eleven- and twelve-year-olds who came back from Sequester, I’m the only one who turned out to be fontani, and as the youngest fontanus in the city, it’s my job to stand for all of us during an attack. The last line of defense. In ten minutes, all of Ninth City could be gone, and I will have to fight, to protect whoever is left. And that’s the look the other cadets are giving me now: They’re wondering if they can trust me with their lives, this kid with his long nose and curly dirt-brown hair, who’s somehow skinny and a little pudgy at the same time, who’s in the bottom half of his class in chin-ups and push-ups, and don’t even ask about the five-kilometer run. Who’s never been really, really good at anything. They’re seeing the same Jax they’ve known for twelve years, only now I’m somehow supposed to protect them from complete destruction. Even Rhetor Danyee seems tense. I don’t blame them: I wish they didn’t have to depend on me, either.

When all the cadets of Section E are in line, Danyee opens the door, and we file out of the classroom, forming two columns of ten, everyone moving smoothly in time. Each of us has been doing atmospheric-incursion drills practically since we learned to walk. As a section, our best time is classroom to shelter in three minutes and forty-two seconds. It’s all so familiar, I almost forget this is the real thing. But only almost.

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