Voyagers aims to be a brand new Star Wars for the young generation, right while everybody is getting excited about the upcoming Force Awakens. There are six books coming out in the next year, written by people like City of Ember author Jeanne DuPrau and Skinned author Robin Wasserman. Check out an excerpt!

In the Voyagers series, the Earth is going to “go dark” unless we discover a new power source—so two teams are sent into space to find something to save our planet. And Team Alpha travels from planet to planet, going through more and more dangerous situations on their quest.

In addition to the first six-book series, Voyagers also has a free game, available in the iTunes store or Google Play, in which kids “collect robots, play cool games, and learn a ton of science, technology, engineering, and math.” There’s also a website where kids can create their own customized robot commander. The first book is out now, and here’s the schedule for the full series:

  • #1: Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale: 9/1/2015
  • #2: Game of Flames by Robin Wasserman: 11/3/2015
  • #3: Omega Rising by Patrick Carman: 1/5/2016
  • #4: Infinity Riders by Kekla Magoon: 3/1/2016
  • #5: Escape the Vortex by Jeanne DuPrau: 5/3/2016
  • #6: The Seventh Element by Wendy Mass: 7/5/2016

And below is an exclusive excerpt from the first book, Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale:


Excerpt from Voyagers: Project Alpha written by D. J. MacHale. Copyright © 2015 by PC Studios Inc. Published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

“The first competition is about how you want to spend your time here. You will be living in dorms. Boys in one, girls in the other. They are functional and comfortable.”

“Kind of like camp,” Niko said.

“However,” Phillips continued, ”one of you will be invited to stay in your own private quarters with a queen bed, a private bathroom, and your own refrigerator.”

“Who gets to stay there?” Carly asked.

Phillips held up a handkerchief-sized golden flag.

“Your first challenge,” he declared. ”Scattered throughout the arena are a few dozen golden flags like this one. Some are in plain sight, others you’ll have to hunt for. The first person who retrieves four flags will be staying in the superior quarters for the duration of your stay. Question is, how badly do you want it?”

The kids all stood staring at Phillips, not sure of how to react.

Phillips pointed to a door on the far side of the hangar and said, ”The arena is through there. The competition begins . . . now.”

Anna took off running. Niko was right behind her. The oth­ers followed quickly.

The final phase of the Project Alpha competition was under way.

It began as a frantic free-for-all, like a massive Easter egg hunt with a lot more at stake than snapping up a few chocolate eggs. Anna sprinted across the empty hangar and spotted the first flag hanging next to the door leading to the arena. She snatched it off the hook and held it up in triumph.

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“That room is mine!” she declared, then waved to the oth­ers and ran out the door.

Gabriel, Niko, Ravi, and Siena sprinted for the door and blasted through right behind her.

Dash took his time. He did a quick scan of the entire space, checking for more flags. There were none, so he ran for the door but stopped when he saw that stacked next to it was an odd assortment of equipment. There were several coils of red climbing rope, a pile of fleecy pullovers of various bright colors, and four ice axes hanging from hooks.

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“Strange equipment to be in an airplane hangar,” Carly said as she jogged up from behind him.

“Maybe there’s a flag buried in there,” Dash said, and quickly dug through the jackets.

“Too obvious,” Piper said as she flew by them.

She spun the wheelchair around expertly and backed into the door, pushing it open. She rolled outside but held it for the other two.

“Coming?” she called.

Dash and Carly gave each other quick looks and ran out­side.

The air temperature had plummeted to below freezing.

“This is impossible,” Carly said. ”We’re in the desert.”

“Cool,” Piper said with wonder. ”Literally.”

“That answers one thing,” Dash said. He ran back inside and moments later came back with three jackets, a coil of rope, and three ice axes. ”This stuff is here for a reason,” he said as he handed jackets and axes to Piper and Carly.

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The three slipped on the jackets, then scanned the area to see nothing but dense fog.

“What’s this about?” Piper asked in a low voice as if not wanting to be heard by anyone other than Dash and Carly.

“Our first test,” Carly said. ”I’ll bet there’s a whole lot more going on here than a race for a couple of flags.”

The three moved forward cautiously, straining to see through the heavy mist. None said it out loud, but they felt safer together than going at it alone.

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“I see one!” Piper exclaimed. She shot forward to where a golden flag hung from a three-foot-high pole. She grabbed it, spun back to the others, and held it up, saying, ”The sooner one of us gets four, the sooner we can get out of this freezer.”

A hulking shadow moved through the mist behind Piper. Only Dash and Carly saw it. It was a fleeting glimpse but it was real. And it was big.

“What was that?” Dash exclaimed.

Piper spun around but saw nothing. ”What was what?” she asked.

“I saw it too,” Carly answered. ”It looked like a big guy, moving fast.”

“Anna?” Dash called out.

“I got another one!” Anna called from somewhere in the distance.

“I don’t like this contest,” Carly said nervously.

“Maybe that’s the point,” Dash said. ”They’re testing our nerves.”

“I’m freezing,” Piper said, her teeth chattering.

“Then let’s move,” Dash said, and they continued on.

They walked cautiously but after taking only a few steps, Carly slipped and had to fight to keep her balance.

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“Whoa! Ice!” she cried as her feet slid out, and she hit the ground hard. ”Ow. That is just rude.”

Dash helped her to her feet. ”It’s an ice rink,” he said. ”Don’t walk; slide.”

“Look!” Piper exclaimed, pointing.

Another big shadow shot through the distant mist.

“That’s not Anna,” Piper said, her voice cracking. ”It looks like a Sasquatch. Or a Wookiee.”

“There’s something over there,” Dash said, moving ahead.

The three cautiously slid forward until a massive white mound appeared out of the mist.

“It’s a pile of snow,” Carly said. ”Or a monster igloo.”

“There’s a cave,” Dash said.

A jagged opening was cut in the face of the huge frozen mound.

“Did the shadow thing go in there?” Piper asked nervously.

“We should go see,” Dash said. ”I guarantee it’s part of the game.”

“I can’t,” Piper said. ”I won’t be able to turn the chair around in there.”

“I’ll go,” Carly said.

“We’ll go together,” Dash said, and the two of them slipped through the opening.

“Cool,” Piper said. ”Be careful.”

It was dark inside, but the ice gave off a faint glow that was enough for them to see by.

“It’s an ice tunnel,” Carly said. ”There’s gotta be a flag in here somewhere.”

The tunnel twisted sharply, creating blind turns with no way of knowing what might be lurking around the next corner. Dash and Carly walked shoulder to shoulder until . . .

CRACK.

The sound came from beyond the next sharp turn.

They froze.

“Something’s in there,” Carly whispered.

Dash fought the urge to turn and run. Instead, he steeled himself and yelled a warning. ”There are two of us!”

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He lifted the ice ax and held it out threateningly, though his hands were shaking.

CRACK!

Whatever was making the sound was moving closer.

It was too late to turn and run. Carly and Dash pushed closer to one another and tensed up.

CRACK!

A footstep crunched the ice just beyond the turn.

Dash raised the ice ax . . .

. . . as a hand appeared from around the corner, waving a golden flag.

“I’m afraid you are too late,” said a girl as she stepped around the corner.

“Siena,” Dash said with a relieved gasp.

Carly could breathe again.

“There is a cavern at the end of the tunnel but there was only one flag,” Siena said. ”Check for yourself but it would be a waste of time because if there was more than one, I would have taken it.”

“Did you see a big guy lurking around?” Carly asked.

“No, but nothing would surprise me. This is quite the elab­orate challenge. My guess is they erected a climate-controlled enclosure to house this frigid environment. Now if you will excuse me”—she pushed past the others, headed for the mouth of the cave—”I have two more flags to find.”

“You already found two?” Carly asked.

Siena held up two flags as she disappeared around the icy bend.

“Is it me or does she sound like a computer?” Carly whis­pered.

Dash laughed and said, ”Let’s get out of here.”

They walked quickly back the way they had come and made it to the mouth of the cave with minimal slippage.

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Piper was waiting for them with a big smile. ”Look,” she said, pointing higher up on the icy mound.

Dash and Carly turned to see three golden flags on a ledge, thirty feet up.

“I didn’t tell Siena,” Piper said with an innocent smile.

“So close,” Dash said. ”But there’s no way to get them.”

Carly held up her ice ax. ”No?”

The shaft was metallic silver with a black rubber hand grip on one end and a nasty-looking point on the other.

“They’re climbing tools,” he said.

“You need two to climb, which means we both can’t do it,” Carly said.

Dash looked up to the flags. He’d never used ice axes be­fore.

“I’ll try,” Dash said. ”If I get ’em, we’ll each take a flag.”

“You’d do that?” Piper asked.

“Sure. You found ’em, Carly’s giving up her ax, and I’m climbing. That’s fair.”

Carly handed over her ax and said, ”Be careful.”

Dash grasped both axes, wrapped the safety straps around his wrists, and faced the icy surface.

“How hard could it be, right?” he asked, not sounding very confident.

He raised the ax in his right hand and hammered it against the ice. It caught and stuck firmly. He did the same with his left hand, a little bit higher. With his foot on the surface, he pulled himself off the ground. The surface sloped away from him at enough of an angle that it wasn’t a difficult climb.

“It’s easy,” Dash said. ”If it were any steeper I’d be in trou­ble.”

At that exact moment, his sneaker slipped off and his stom­ach smashed against the ice.

“Ouch.”

“You sure about that?” Carly asked.

His answer was to find a better toe hold and then yank the right ax out of the ice. He reached up as high as he could and hammered it home again.

“I got this,” Dash said.

Looking up, he saw that the ledge was right below the top

of the frozen mound. It only took another minute and three more whacks at the ice to reach it. He hoisted himself up, stood on the ledge so that his head cleared the top of the mound . . .

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. . . and came face to face with a gorilla-like white beast that was climbing up the other side. Its fiery red eyes glowed from deep sockets in a massive, furry head.

“Ahhh!” Dash screamed, and pushed away from the beast.

He fell backward on the ledge but had the presence of mind to reach out with one of the axes to grab at the ice. It stopped him from sliding all the way to the ground but he hung there by one hand. With a surge of adrenaline, Dash slammed the other ax into the ice. He shifted his weight and repeated the process until he finished a controlled slide back to the ground.

“What happened?” Piper asked anxiously.

“I saw what was making the shadow,” Dash said, breath­ing hard. ”It was a . . . a . . . monster. A big white ape-looking thing. I fell back and . . . I didn’t get the flags. Sorry.”

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“This is getting too crazy,” Carly said. ”Maybe we should just hang together and—”

“Help!” came someone’s scream from somewhere off in the fog.

“Oh man, now what?” Piper said.

“Help me!” the desperate voice called out again.

“C’mon!” Dash said, and moved quickly into the fog, head­ed in the direction of the sound. Between zero visibility and the icy surface, it was slow going.

“I’ve got traction,” Piper said, and zoomed ahead.

They soon heard the sound of splashing, thrashing water.

“I can’t breathe,” the voice called out.

“Be careful,” Carly called to Piper. ”You’re headed to­ward—”

Dash leapt forward and grabbed the back of Piper’s wheel­chair, stopping her from rolling off the edge of the ice and into a frothing pool.

“—water.”

“Oops,” Piper said, breathless. ”Thanks.”

“Who’s out there?” Carly called.

“It’s Niko!” came the desperate shout. ”The ice broke and . . . and . . . it’s so cold I can’t catch my breath!”

“Here,” Carly said, grabbing the rope and uncoiling it.

“We’re throwing you a lifeline,” Dash called out.

“Hurry!” Niko pleaded.

“Tie the end to your chair,” Dash said to Piper.

While Piper looped the end around the arm of her wheel­chair, Dash took the rest of the rope and slid closer to the edge.

“Where are you?” he called out.

“Here!” Niko called.

The fog was so dense, Dash couldn’t see him.

“Ready!” Piper called out.

“Here it comes!” Dash called to Niko, and hurled the rope in the direction of his voice. There was a splash and then . . .

“I got it!” Niko cried with relief.

“Hang on, we’ll pull you out!” Dash yelled.

He immediately started pulling but the surface was too slip­pery and his feet went out from under him. He sat down and tried yanking it again but only ended up pulling himself closer to the edge.

“I can’t get traction,” he called to the others with growing panic.

“I can,” Piper said. ”Let it go.”

Dash released the rope and Piper pulled it all the way in.

“I can’t hold on!” Niko called.

“Help me,” Piper called to Carly. ”Stand on the back and hang on to the rope.”

Carly grabbed the rope with one hand and stood on the back of the chair. Piper took hold of the controls. She jammed the vehicle into reverse and eased open the throttle. Slowly, the chair moved backward.

“Hang on, Niko!” Dash called out.

The wheels dug into the ice and kept moving as they gradu­ally pulled Niko closer.

“There he is!” Dash called out.

The four other candidates skidded up out of the fog, watch­ing in wonder as Niko was towed to the edge of the ice. Dash grabbed him and pulled him up on to the slick surface. Niko was breathing hard and shivering.

Piper pulled off her jacket and threw it to Dash.

“Wrap him up,” she commanded. ”If we don’t get his body temperature up, it could hurt his heart.”

Dash pulled off his own jacket as well and put them on Niko.

“Rub his back to get his blood moving faster,” Piper added.

Dash followed orders and rubbed Niko’s back.

“I’m okay,” Niko said through chattering teeth. ”Thanks.”

Piper and Carly exchanged high fives.

“I saw a flag and went for it,” Niko said. ”But the ice gave way.”

“Did you get the flag?” Anna asked.

Niko shook his head.

“Well, I got three,” Anna announced. ”The game’s still on.”

“No, it isn’t,” Piper announced, and handed her flag to Anna.

“Seriously?” Anna said with surprise.

“Congratulations.”

A loud horn sounded as bright lights kicked on, bathing the group in warm white light. The whirring sound of giant fans filled the arena as the fog was blown away. Within seconds, the entire area was revealed.

“Exactly as I suspected,” Siena said with a smug smile.

They were in a giant white tent that was large enough to house a twelve-ring circus. Ice covered the entire floor like a giant hockey rink. Five different ice mounds like the one Dash had climbed were scattered about. The water that Niko had fallen into was a moat that surrounded an island with the larg­est mound.

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A metal catwalk ringed the tent high above them. Hanging below it were multiple high-intensity lights. The air tempera­ture rose quickly to a more desertlike norm.

“Well done!” Commander Phillips exclaimed as he strode toward them. ”We have a winner of the Tundra Event.”

Anna held up the four flags triumphantly.

“What is this place?” Gabriel asked. ”It’s like some fun-house arctic weirdness.”

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“This is the arena where many of your challenges will take place,” Phillips replied. ”In here, we can create any kind of environment and situation. Niko, you were never in danger.”

He pointed to the moat where several frogmen had surfaced and gave a thumbs-up.

“I just hope I don’t die of pneumonia,” Niko replied.

“What about the gorilla?” Dash asked. ”What was that about?”

“Just another element of surprise,” Phillips explained. ”We need to see how each of you will react under different forms of stress.”

“How did we do?” Carly asked.

Phillips smiled and said, ”That’s for me to discuss with the rest of the Project Alpha team. Now, everyone back into the hangar where you’ll be taken to your quarters. It’s been a long day. Anna, you’ll be shown to your private room.”

“Yes!” Anna exclaimed, and hurried off.

Phillips stepped up to Niko and helped him to his feet.

“How do you feel?” Phillips asked.

“Cold and wet,” Niko replied. ”But ready for the next con­test.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Go get dried off.”

Niko headed for the hangar, followed by Siena, Ravi, and Gabriel.

Dash stood up and went to Carly and Piper. The three ex­changed high fives.

“Not bad,” Dash said.

“Tell me,” Phillips said to Piper, ”why did you give up your flag?”

“I wanted the contest to be over,” she said. ”Besides, I didn’t want the prize.”

“You didn’t want a private room?” Phillips asked, surprised.

“Nope,” Piper said. ”I didn’t come here to be alone.”

“I see,” Phillips said with no emotion. ”Go join the others.”

The three headed off, leaving Phillips in the middle of the arena. He surveyed the scene with satisfaction as the ice melted around him.

He then looked up to the catwalk.

Looking down was a single observer wearing a blue jump­suit similar to the one Phillips wore. It was a teenager with short blond hair who stood leaning on the guardrail. At his feet sat a golden retriever.

“Thoughts?” Phillips called up.

“Eight solid candidates,” the young man called back. ”Let’s hope they can handle it when things really get rough.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this article implied that Voyagers was a young-adult book series, whereas it’s actually aimed at a middle-grade audience.


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com and follow her on Twitter @Charliejane