This page contains a chapter by chapter summary of Skyward. We hope this summary will make it easier to find specific areas of the book, as well as providing a quick plot refresher for anyone who doesn't want to take the time to reread the entire book.
- 1 Prologue
- 2 Part One
- 3 Part Two
- 4 Part Three
- 5 Part Four
- 6 Part Five
- 7 Epilogue
Seven-year-old Spensa is surprised but happy when her father, a pilot, finally lets her follow him to the surface after constant begging. As she climbs, she imagines the features in her surroundings as crushed enemies. Her father helps her through the final parts of the climb, making use of a light-line, and Spensa beholds the sky for the first time, finding it beautiful. Spensa listens to her father talk about the Krell, on how they come from beyond the debris field and come down to attack, and how they can sense large congregations of people, making it hard to rebuild civilization. He tells her that they have to keep Alta Base and Igneous Cavern hidden, since Igneous manufactures starships and Alta defends it. Suddenly, Spensa's father spots a hole in the debris, expressing awe. He tells her to keep reaching upwards and "claim the stars". Just then, his fellow pilots contact him on his radio announcing that the Krell have located Igneous and are coming to destroy it. They decide to fight, and Spensa's father tells her to immediately head back while promising his comrades that he is coming. He gives Spensa his pilot's pin and light-line before leaving. Spensa lingers for a while, watching the starfighters leave Alta before leaving. She gets lost in the caverns for a while, and by the time she finds her way back, the fighting is over and Spensa learns that her father was a coward in the battle.
Nine and a half years later, Spensa hunts rats in a cavern, imagining her speargun to be a rifle, nearby rocks to be fortifications, and the rat to be an enemy. She checks the clock on her light-line, and decides it is getting late and she needs to head back to avoid missing too much of the school day. She comes to an intersection with old machinery, where she collects some water from a tube, before heading forward again and reaching Igneous, her home cavern. She stashes some of her supplies in a obscure maintenance locker. Spensa comes to a check-in point where two ground soldiers make her wait for verification and authorization to enter, even though they know each other. She resents having to go through this every day. Alukos, one of the soldiers, calls her a coward after he finishes searching her bag for contraband, and Spensa tells him that someday he will be grateful for having known her, which he dismisses contemptuously. Spensa heads towards her neighborhood, the Glorious Rises of Industry, passing by a statue of the First Citizens, before reaching her family's apartment. While Spensa's mother isn't home, her grandmother, Gran-Gran, is. Gran-Gran is making algae rolls to sell, which is done since Spensa's mother can't get a job due to them being the family of a coward. She greets Spensa as the latter delivers her rats. Spensa notes that Gran-Gran has forgotten about her needing to attend school, something she misses a lot of due to it currently being about job opportunities she doesn't care for since Spensa is set on becoming a pilot. As they prepare the rats, Gran-Gran starts telling a story about Beowulf. Afterwards, she talks about the history of their clan, the Motorskaps, and tells Spensa to do her exercises, which she has been neglecting. Following her grandmother's instructions, Spensa closes her eyes and tries to listen to the stars and imagine herself flying, even though she finds it boring. Gran-Gran talks about their people, who worked on the engine room of the fleet's flagship. They were considered strange by the other crews, but were able to make ship move, said to be because they could hear the stars. For a moment, Spensa thinks she can hear a "distant, pure sound". She asks Gran-Gran why the engine crews were important, rather than firing the weapons, which Gran-Gran dismisses, saying that ship movement is also important. She tells Spensa that she will tell her about Sun Tzu tomorrow, though Spensa wants to hear about Genghis Khan. Gran-Gran then mentions Queen Boudicca, who she claims is another of Spensa's ancestors. Spensa's mother interrupts, saying that all of those people being her ancestors is implausible and telling Spensa that she needs to go to school.
Mrs. Vmeer, Spensa's Work Studies instructor, introduces Citizen Alfir, a man from Sanitation Corps, asking him to discuss his job. Spensa's classmate Dia taunts her, telling Spensa that cleaning waste would be a perfect job for the daughter of a coward, and Spensa has to restrain herself due to Dia being Mrs. Vmeer's daughter and already having gotten into trouble for fighting before. Alfir continues speaking, saying that even though his job doesn't seem significant, it is still vital to keep their society running. Spensa notes that several of the other speakers have said the same things about their roles, and finds those attitudes not passionate enough for Defiants. Citizen Alfir finishes his presentation, and the students stand up for a break. Spensa avoids Dia to try to stay out of trouble, and instead approaches her friend Rodge. They discuss their wishes to become pilots, and review some material they need for the pilot test. Just then, Mrs. Vmeer approaches Spensa with Alfir, who tells Spensa that they need people like her in Sanitation, offering her a guaranteed spot there. Spensa turns him down, and Dia tells her that the authorities will definitely prevent her from passing the pilot's test, even though everyone is allowed to take it. Spensa notes that Dia doesn't seem to care if she believes her, unlike her usual taunts. She goes to confront Mrs. Vmeer on the topic. Mrs. Vmeer tries dance around on it, claiming that Spensa's father being a coward makes it a delicate situation, but is eventually forced to partly admit that she won't be allowed to get in, though she doesn't say that the admiral specifically ordered her to be kept out. Mrs. Vmeer then tries to coax her into taking another job. Enraged and humiliated at being lied to about being able to get in, Spensa storms out of the room.
Still upset over being denied the chance to become a pilot, Spensa runs off to the caverns, seeking refuge there. She uses her light-line to make her way down a cliff and into another cavern with kurdi mushrooms, which attract rats. She turns off her light-line and settles down to hunt. She notes that while exploring usually helps take her mind off her worries, it's not working this time. The cavern shakes a bit, and Spensa realizes that she is quite close to the surface. She checks her clock, seeing that night has already passed, and it is near noon of the next day, almost the time for the pilot test, which takes place in the evening. She dismisses it, thinking that the test is pointless since she won't be able to get in anyway. Spensa climbs up to the surface, marvels at seeing the sky again, then realizes that she is quite close to Alta Base, though she only watches from a distance, since getting to close would make the guards mistake her for a scavenger. Suddenly, some debris starts falling towards her. Scrambling, Spensa takes cover in another small cavern. After the debris lands, she gets up checks around. While Spensa is fine, her speargun is broken, and she chastises herself for being impulsive. She hears a scrabbling sound, which causes her to check for more rats, or a water pipe. Instead, Spensa finds a ship in the corner of the cavern, surrounded by rubble.
Spensa examines the ship, realizing that it is a starfighter, though she doesn't recognize the model, which surprises her since she has memorized every DDF, Krell, and nomadic trader ship model, as well as some older ones. The ship is buried in rubble, but appears mostly intact. Coming closer, Spensa finds the manual release panel with English written on it, leading her to conclude it is a human ship, as well as an incredibly old one. There is no skeleton in the cockpit, so the pilot either escaped, or the crashed ship is old enough that the bones turned to dust. After trying to pull the release lever manually and failing, Spensa separates her the rope of her light-line from its bracelet, attaching one end to the release lever and the other to a boulder. She shoves the boulder, causing the lever to be pulled. The door to the cockpit opens, and Spensa climbs in, noting that the controls are similar to others that she's seen. Sitting in the pilot's seat, she starts thinking about her father, and what he would be thinking. Spensa thinks that he might be disappointed with her for running from the test, then thinks about whether being told she would be rejected anyway was part of the test to see if she's a coward. Changing her mind, Spensa decides to head back and take the pilot's test anyway.
Spensa rushes into the testing room, getting in just before time is up. A woman in an admiral's uniform frowns at her, and everyone in the testing room is staring as well. Spensa makes her way to the single available desk, which unfortunately happens to be right in front of the woman, who she recognizes as Judy "Ironsides" Ivans herself. Spensa tries not to show her pain and embarrassment as she walks. She hears Rig express relief at seeing her, and she winks at him before going back to suppressing her pain. Ironsides starts speaking about how everyone is worthy in different ways and that she is proud of them all for coming. Seeing how aloof she seems, Spensa hopes that she won't be discriminated against. Then, she sees a short man in glasses pointing her out to the admiral, who frowns at her, and Mrs. Vmeer in the corner shaking her head in seeming disappointment, and her hopes drop again. An aide gives her a test, but Spensa doesn't have a pencil in her pocket, only her father's pin. Rig tosses her a spare pencil, and she silently thanks him. Looking at her test, Spensa realizes that the questions are all about algae preparation, something she didn't study for due to having to miss class to go hunting, and her obsession with becoming a pilot making her only attend piloting-relevant classes in the time she has left. She peeks as fellow tester Darla's paper, and sees questions about piloting on it. An aide announces that everyone has different tests, so cheating is useless. Angry, Spensa realizes that they gave her a special test designed to make her fail. She continues working on her test, which asks questions relating to other fields the adults tried to put her in. She tries her best, but is unable to answer about two-thirds of them. The test ends, and Ironsides comes over and looks at her. Spensa shows her her father's pin, saying that she would like to petition to enter Flight School due to being the daughter of a pilot who fought at the Battle of Alta. Ironsides says that she isn't accepting the pin of a traitor and grabs it, asking where she even got it. Spensa tells her he gave it to her before he left, and Ironsides tells her that letting her in would be a public relations nightmare, before turning to leave. Spensa tries to ask her to give the pin back, but Ironsides tells her that the families of cowards aren't allowed to keep the pin, and walks off. Rig comes over and asks her to go to the post-testing party with him, but Spensa tells him to leave her alone.
Spensa sits alone for hours in the empty testing room, starting to feel empty and defeated instead of angry. An aide comes in and tells her to leave, but Spensa doesn't listen. She walks over to where Ironsides left the tests from the children of First Citizens. The tests are all empty other than the name, since they are guaranteed entrance into pilot school due to their parentage. Spensa picks up the first test, belonging to Jorgen Wright, and starts writing in it. It is full of detailed questions on piloting and related fields, though Spensa doesn't really think for the intent and preference questions, since she isn't getting in anyway. As she finishes, she hears janitors outside. She starts sketching a W-shaped ship, similar to the crash she found earlier. The janitors come in, and one asks Spensa why she is still here. She tells him she didn't feel like celebrating, since she never had an actual chance to pass, and asks if he ever felt like he was forced into his role. He asks her why she wants to be a pilot so much, since it's a dangerous job, and Spensa replies that not all of them die, citing a statistic she studied. The man tells her he knows, and she spots the glint of medals and a pilot's pin on the chest of his silhouette. Spensa then hears the two janitors joking in the hallway, which makes her realize that the man is not a janitor. He walks, limping, over to her in the emergency lighting, asking her again why she wants to be a pilot as he flips through her test. Spensa tries to say that because she wants to prove herself and clear her father's name, but instead tells him that it's because she'll get to see the sky. He comments that even though their people named themselves Defiants, Ironsides is still surprised at being defied. He puts the test down with something on top of it, then starts walking away. Spensa asks him who he is, and he turns around, revealing his face more clearly, and tells her he knew her father. Spensa suddenly recognizes him as Mongrel, her father's old wingmate. He tells her to show up the morning of the day after tomorrow at pilot class and gives her the location, telling her to use her pin to get in. Spensa realizes the object he put on her test is a cadet's pin, and grabs it while asking Mongrel about what Ironsides would do about it. He replies that he can handle it, since Ironsides is too highly ranked to manage cadets. Mongrel comments that Spensa got 17, a question on what to do in overwhelming odds, wrong, saying that she should fall back and await reinforcements, which she disagrees with. He stiffens a bit and Spensa quickly stops herself, trying to not anger the man who'll let her in. He tells her that even though he admitted her, it won't be easy on her.
Spensa stands in an elevator as the door opens to Alta Base, a bit hesitant as people around her start walking out. A girl behind her expresses similar sentiments, wondering if this is real, before telling her that they can handle it. As they leave the elevator, Spensa is surprised that the girl isn't shunning her like all the other people she's known. The girl introduces herself as Kimmalyn and they realize they are in the same class. Spensa wonders if Kimmalyn's friendly, laid-back demeanor will work for her as a Defiant, while Kimmalyn thinks Spensa's aggressive attitude is a bit too much. They pass a checkpoint and enter their classroom building. Spensa feels nervous at how open her surroundings are, but pushes it back and prepares to learn how to become a pilot.
Spensa and Kimmalyn enter the room, first, and see ten Poco-class training cockpits forming a circle. The door opens, and two more cadets enter, Bim, a short Yeongian boy with dark blue hair, and Hudiya, a blonde, athletic-looking girl from Igneous. After those two came Morningtide, a Vician girl with a tattoo across her lower jaw. After Morningtide enters comes Freyja, a tall skinny girl with very short blonde hair. After Freyja comes Jorgen, Arturo, and Ned. Jorgen calls for the cadets to line up against the wall, to which Hudiya and Spensa object to. Spensa calls him "Jerkface", and then takes a shot at him being an entitled son of a First Citizen, because he didn't have to take his entry test to Flight School. After arguing for a little while longer, Spensa realizes that none of the cadets in the Flight School know her personally, therefore, none of them know who her father is, meaning she has a clean slate and can start anew with this group. After this realization, Mongrel enters the room, and identifies himself as Captain Cobb. Mongrel tells the cadets their chances of even making it out of Flight School are slim, and then designates Jorgen as flightleader, with Arturo and Ned as assistant flightleaders. Spensa is outraged, so Mongrel takes her into the hallway, and tells her to knock it off because he's already stuck his neck out for her far enough, and informs her that between the three of them, Jorgen, Arturo, and Ned have thousands of flight hours logged, as well as multiple relatives who made it out of the Flight School to become full-fledged DDF members. This shuts Spensa up, and she asks Mongrel if she needs to do any menial labor as punishment; Mongrel tells her the punishment for acting out of line is simple - she won't get to fly.
Spensa and Cobb return to the classroom, and Mongrel begins explaining the various features of the training cockpits, or mockpits. Each of the mockpits is equipped with a large holographic projector to simulate flight, as real starfighters are too expensive to waste on inexperienced cadets. The mockpits do not simulate g-forces, so the cadets will have to spend time in the centrifuge to imitate that. Cobb begins to inform the students they will be able to pick their own callsigns when Rig bursts into the room and explains that Elevator 103-D was broken for two hours, to which a voice on the intercom confirms to Cobb. Cobb lets Spensa enter a mockpit, and he goes around the circle turning on each of the cadets' holographic projectors. The projectors produce an extremely accurate depiction of the launchpad outside of the Flight School, with all ten mockpits having holographic fighters appear to each of the other cadets on the video feed. Cobb begins to tell the cadets that they'll practice takeoffs, when he is interrupted by Jorgen, who explains he can lead the flight in this endeavor. Jorgen explains that to change altitude, the best tool to use is the highly valuable acclivity ring, as well as the uses of the control sphere in banking right or left. Each of the cadets take off, and only Jorgen, Nedd, Arturo, and Freyja don't crash. The flight proceed to practice gaining and losing altitude for three hours. Cobb instructs Jorgen to conduct a roll call at their selected height of 500 feet. An argument ensues over whether or not it is acceptable to eject from a starfighter, an argument Cobb ends by informing the cadets that a life is just as valuable as an acclivity ring. Spensa dubs the flight Skyward Flight, and the roll call begins. Nedd identifies his callsign as Nedder, Hudiya as Hurl, Rig as Rigmarole, Arturo as Amphisbaena, Kimmalyn decides to be Quick, Morningtide keeps her name as her callsign, Freyja decides to be known as FM, Spensa chooses the callsign Spin, and she also dubs Jorgen "Jerkface." An alarm goes off in the Flight School, and Ironsides asks Cobb to send his flight to the launchpad, as Nightmare Flight is down in the caverns for rest and relaxation.
Spensa and Rig exit the training room and begin jogging towards the launchpad. Cobb radios in to the flight as they're running to the launchpad, and mistakenly identifies Kimmalyn as Quirk, a name that sticks. Spensa enters a Poco-class starship, and a member of the ground crew informs her of its basic differences from the mockpit she practiced on. She activates the acclivity ring, and lifts off, feeling the g-forces of flying for the first time. She levels out at fifteen hundred feet, and Jerkface does a roll call. Cobb informs Jerkface that flight command has ordered them to climb to two thousand feet and hover above the city, hoping to trick any Krell that come near into thinking that their rookie flight was a fresh set of veteran reinforcements. While waiting, Spensa and Arturo explain the basic strategy of the Krell; large bombers carry precious lifebuster bombs, that if dropped on the city, would vaporize all of Alta Base, Igneous Cavern, and destroy some of the lower caverns. After a little more waiting, Spensa spots a Krell ship heading towards Alta Base at 11 o'clock, two hundred feet down. Jerkface informs Cobb, Cobb informs flight command, and Jerkface and Nedder are given the command to go after the lone Krell ship. Spensa breaks formation to join Jerkface and Nedder, and Cobb orders Hurl to follow as her wingmate. The four cadets streak toward the Krell ship, hoping to intercept it before it reaches Alta Base, when it suddenly swoops around and flies toward them.
As the Krell starship approaches, Spensa attempts to pull into a turn she's drawn thousands of times, only to realize it is much more difficult to pull off in real life, almost crashing into Hurl. Whilst performing a series of dogfighting maneuvers with Nedd and the Krell ship, Jorgen pulls off a near-perfect twin-S dodge. Cobb warns Jorgen to avoid performing complex maneuvers, as it will allow the Krell to identify him as a flightleader, and therefore target him. After performing a perfect Ahlstrom loop, Jorgen attempts another spin, this time less successful, leading the Krell back towards the other six members of the flight. The members of the flight scatter, but Morningtide clips Bim in the scuffle. Krell destructor blasts hit Rig head on, but his shield holds, and Kimmalyn dropped five hundred feet below her flightmates to try and line up a destructor shot. Jorgen decides to lure the Krell ship higher so Alta's AA guns can reach it, only to realize his shield is down. Spensa nearly blacks out from g-forces in a rush to save him, only for Kimmalyn to snipe the unshielded Krell ship from far below. Rig reveals he threw up in his ship, so Cobb tells him to return to the launchpad, with Hurl as an escort. Cobb reveals Kimmalyn's recommendation to the Flight School because of her accuracy record as a gunner from Bountiful Cavern, and the flight retreats to the launchpad as Nightmare Flight come to relieve them. The flight is shown their bunks, but Spensa is not given one, and is told by Cobb that Ironsides has forbidden her access to a bunk or the mess hall, and that she must take the elevator to get between Igneous Cavern and Flight School every day. Two MPs escort her off the premises, and she overhears Jorgen and Cobb talking about the insubordination of the flight. Jorgen leaves in an extremely expensive private car, and Spensa walks off toward the waiting area for the elevators. As she's waiting in line, she realizes that her secret cavern is probably a quicker commute than going all the way back to Igneous, so she goes there and falls asleep in the cockpit of the old ship.
Spensa wakes up in the ship's cockpit, noting the time to be 0430. She notices an odd blue and yellow slug-like creature nearby in the cockpit. She considers eating it, but then decides against the notion, thinking that its bright colors might indicate poison. Spensa sets a snare for rats, then starts poking around at the ship, hoping to fix or at least properly examine it. She finds a large black box whose function she doesn't recognize. Spensa then hooks up her light-line's power matrix to the ship, but then realizes that it is too weak to make the ship's functions run. Looking back up, she sees that the slug has now gotten into the ship's open innards, making Spensa wonder how it got there so fast, since she doesn't see any other similar slugs around. The snare catches a rat, and Spensa skins, guts, and cooks it. She wonders if she is really going to live in a cave and scavenge for her food, but decides that since Ironsides expects her to commute back home each night, Spensa is going to be defiant and try to retain some control over her life.
Early in the morning, Spensa heads to the lavatory, to which she is allowed access, to wash her clothes. Afterwards, she heads to class, and realizes that Rig is late again. Cobb comes in and notices the empty seat, then understandingly nods at Rig when he finally arrives. Rig turns to leave, and Cobb notes that there is always a cadet who decides that they aren't pilot material after their first fight. Spensa chases after him, asking on why he is leaving and giving up. Rig tells her that he realizes that he wasn't fit for battle, and that he should probably find another more suitable job. Cobb calls her back into the classroom, then starts having the cadets practice flying in unison. They spend the morning practicing turning, with Bim constantly asking about weapons. Hurl flies into FM's ship, causing both to crash. Cobb tells the cadets to eject if they get into uncontrolled spins like what happened earlier. As they practice landing their ships, Cobb emphasizes ejecting in the case of an emergency, though Spensa doesn't take it to heart because she feels that she will get kicked out of Flight School if she ejects as a cadet, and can worry about it after becoming a full pilot. As everyone else goes to the mess hall for lunch, Cobb talks with Spensa and learns that she didn't take the elevator home to Igneous last night because she lives in the cave nearby and that she forgot to bring lunch for the day. Spensa takes a walk in the orchard outside the DDF base, looking up at the debris field above and wondering about the people that came before. As she heads back to class, Spensa notices some small vehicle hangars, one of which has Jorgen's blue hovercar in it. Heading in, Spensa sees Morningtide eating lunch alone and tries to talk, but the other girl doesn't respond much. The other cadets come in, and Kimmalyn gives Spensa a roll to make up for her missing lunch. Cobb asks the cadets about their feelings before practicing more turns. Among other things, Morningtide's response reveals that she can't speak English very well, and FM is uncomfortable with the DDF's military culture.
A week later, Cobb lectures the cadets on handling g-forces and GravCaps. He finishes and orders them to start practicing with destructors. Nearly everyone aims poorly and fails to hit any simulated Krell ships, but Kimmalyn manages to easily shoot down several of them. Bim asks to practice dogfighting, and Cobb makes the Krell ships start attacking them. Spensa and Jorgen last the longest, with Jorgen taking 17 seconds longer to go down. After everyone gets shot down, Cobb explains that since the Krell have superior ships, DDF pilots are at a disadvantage in using destructors alone. He then touches on the Inverted Magellan Pulse, or IMP, which takes down all shields in a very small area. Cobb then discusses the third and last weapon used by DDF pilots, the light-lance, and points out that light-lances are similar to light-lines, like the one Spensa has. He says that the light-lance will be their best weapon, since the Krell often attack during debris falls, and a skilled pilot can outmaneuver the Krell, whose ships don't have light-lances. Cobb tells the cadets that they will be spending the next month training with the light-lance. Spensa is quite enthusiastic about this.
Spensa plugs a power matrix from an old water heater into the ship, talking to Doomslug as she does so. She realizes that it is not powerful enough to make the ship run. Spensa leaves the cave to head to class. In class, the cadets practice hitting floating pieces of debris using their light-lances in a simulator. Spensa manages to hit a chunk, but crashes her ship in the process. Cobb stands nearby, watching the cadets' actions on the simulator. He tells Morningtide, who is timidly hovering at the edge of the simulated debris fields, to participate more, like the other cadets. Spensa helps explain Cobb's orders to Morningtide, before getting back in herself. As she puts on her helmet, Spensa notices strange bumps in it. She asks Cobb about it, and he informs her that Medical ordered it swapped to monitor her bioreadings, but only for Spensa herself and none of her flightmates. Spensa is uncomfortable with this revelation, but gets back into the simulation anyway. Cobb gets into a discussion with Bim, in which Bim asks why they are practicing with light-lances instead of dogfighting. Cobb then puts up a projection of five golden rings, and sets up a contest in which the cadet that flies through the most rings in three runs will get an extra dessert, and adds that a cadet's score is stuck at whatever they achieved beforehand with no tries afterwards if they crash. The reward is useless to Spensa, since she doesn't eat with the others. Jorgen hangs back and observes Eventually, it comes down to Spensa, who has finished her third run with ten points, realizing that Jorgen, currently with eight points, will win if he completes the third run he is starting. She tries to stop it by crashing her ship straight into Jorgen's mid-run, ending it before he can claim enough points to beat her. Jorgen is furious, to Spensa's satisfaction. Cobb orders a break. Kimmalyn congratulates her on winning the game. Bim starts talking to Spensa about her interest in ancient heroes, and she realizes he is awkwardly trying to flirt with her. She tries to flirt back when Jorgen reveals to everyone that Spensa is Chaser's daughter. They have a confrontation on it, before Cobb orders everyone to get back to their exercises. At the end of the day, an angry Spensa steals the power matrix from Jorgen's hovercar.
Spensa wakes up in the cockpit, and sees the power matrix from Jorgen's car she stole last night. She panics thinking that she might be caught and get kicked out of Flight School for the act, but nobody seems to catch on and she goes through the day as normal. Spensa notices that nearly everyone seems to be dancing around her being the daughter of a coward, other than Kimmalyn, who simply notes that this might be what causes Spensa's attitude and comforts her. At the end of the day, Spensa heads back to the ship and installs the power matrix. The ship's systems start up and it greets Spensa, who realizes that it can talk.
The ship introduces itself as MB-1021, or M-Bot, a long-distance stealth ship, and reveals that most of its data banks are corrupted, so it doesn't remember much of its past. The only record M-Bot has is the last order from his old pilot Commander Spears, which is "Lie low, M-Bot. Take stock, don't get into any fights, and wait for me here." M-Bot reveals that he doesn't recognize the term for the Krell. M-Bot determines from some isotopes that it has been 172 years since it crashed, to the 80 years since the Defiant crash that Spensa knows about. M-Bot then discusses its routines for emotion and the single intact memory bank it has other than for basic functions, a database for cataloging fungal organisms. Spensa is confused by M-Bot's desire to categorize mushrooms. She starts wondering if M-Bot holds the answers to questions about their history, despite the damaged memory banks. M-Bot notes that many of the ship systems, such as the weapons system and cytonic hyperdrive, are offline, though a few, like the communications system, still work. Spensa realizes that she can't fix the ship on her own, and decides to get help. Some time later, in the middle of the night, Spensa manages to reach Rig's apartment, and wakes him to show him the ship. He is a bit uncomfortable but follows along anyway. As they enter the tunnels, Rig tells Spensa that ever since he dropped out of pilot school, he's had to decide between a dozen job offers in two months' time. He expresses worry at not finding something that suits him. They eventually reach M-Bot's chamber, and Rig is awed by the sight.
Spensa helps Rig check over M-Bot, but starts dozing off later on. She wakes up around six in the morning, and starts talking with Rig on whether they should turn M-Bot in to the DDF. M-Bot expresses irritation at being talked about as though he is not present, and says that while he is a logic-driven machine, he has simulated emotions. Rig leans towards revealing the ship, while Spensa advocates keeping it hidden for now and trying to fix it themselves. Rig is convinced to help repair M-Bot, then remembers getting a job offer from the Engineering Corps, which supervise starship repair and design. He says that he might be able to get the knowledge of how to repair the ship from an engineering internship, though Spensa will have to scavenge for spare parts to use. M-Bot spots Doomslug, and comments on her being an interesting-looking fungus. Rig is creeped out, but Spensa tells him to leave Doomslug alone. M-Bot tells Spensa that he has lost his master and original purpose, as well as the fact since his last set of orders were to lie low, Spensa cannot be allowed to reveal the ship to the DDF. Spensa contemplates this issue, but is interrupted by M-Bot's sensors reporting a force of 43 Krell ships approaching. She realizes that Skyward Flight, having gotten enough training experience to start participating in battles in Ironsides's view, might be asked to fight, and decides to head back to base.
Spensa runs for Alta Base, thinking Ironsides made it Skyward Flight's turn this time to participate in the battle. She returns to a single ship on a launchpad, meaning that she is late and everyone else in her flight has already taken off. In a hurry, Spensa skips putting on her pressure suit, and contacts Jorgen before taking off. Eventually, she reaches the site of the battle, and Jorgen tells her to help Morningtide, who has picked up a tail. Morningtide tries to dodge and throw them off, but the three Krell ships trailing her manage to shoot her down. Spensa tries to help by hitting one of the Krell ships with her light-lance for another pilot to shoot down, but Morningtide is already gone. Spensa flies back to Jorgen, containing her grief. The two use their light-lines to send a Krell ship into debris before Cobb tells them to remain in defensive positions. They then notices Kimmalyn, who has frozen up with Morningtide's death and doesn't have a wingmate. Jorgen goes to cover her, telling Spensa to go help Bim. Spensa gets a tail, which she gets rid of by making a good maneuver, feeling as though she is part of the ship. Cobb congratulates her, then tells her to get to Bim, who he says is too overeager. Just then, a Krell bomber with a lifebuster bomb is spotted. Cobb tells the cadets to stay back and let the full pilots handle the situation. Bim insists he can hit the bomber, and Cobb tries to check for orders instead of immediately rejecting the idea, which makes Bim think that he has permission to engage, and asks Spensa to follow him. Cobb warns them that the bomb looks bigger than usual, but Bim is already flying over. Four escort ships peel away from the bomber, and their destructor blasts overwhelm Bim's ship's shields, shooting him down. A chunk of the wreckage hits Spensa's ship and it starts blaring warnings, but she manages to stabilize herself. The Krell ships disengage, and Ironsides decides not to pursue, since there are too many of them. Jorgen orders everyone to confirm their status, and everyone other than Morningtide and Bim responds, before they fall into formation. Skyward Flight returns to base, short two members.
Ironsides sits at her desk, reading casualty reports and writing consolation letters to the families of killed pilots. She feels guilty about there being so many lost. Cobb comes in, lets her finish her letter, then confronts her about sending out improperly trained or underage pilots and getting them killed. Ironsides replies that it has to be done for the sake of protecting Alta. She then points out that Spensa arrived late to the recent battle, and Cobb retorts that her restrictions have forced Spensa to live in a nearby cave instead of the barracks. Ironsides then comments that Spensa's helmet readings have confirmed that she has a "defect", and needs to be driven out of the DDF. Cobb says that he will give Spensa a personal radio so that they can be in contact. As he turns to leave, the two muse on others who have died in the past, and what they would do in Ironsides's positon
Spensa arrives five minutes late to class the next day, still shocked at Bim and Morningtide's deaths. She notices that while everyone else is present, Cobb and Kimmalyn have yet to arrive. Nedd asks her to say a few lines on being brave and defiant, but Spensa tells him that they feel like empty platitudes. FM gives her a squeeze on the shoulder, and Spensa thinks about how little she knows about her flightmate. Jorgen gets up and recites an awkward speech on their flightmates' deaths, reading notes off his hand. Cobb comes in and orders them to practice tandem maneuvering without bringing up the deaths, causing Spensa to snap at him. Kimmalyn finally arrives, puffy-eyed, and climbs into her seat. Instead of turning on the projector as usual, Cobb makes a comment on feeling less like a teacher and more like a munitions loader sending cadets off to die, something he believes his old teacher Mara would've said, looking unusually vulnerable. Spensa then talks about how her father told her to claim the stars, and that she will fight defiantly until she joins Bim and Morningtide in the stars. The other cadets are stunned into silence. After a few moments, Cobb tells them to start practicing. Spensa puts on her helmet and notes that the diodes are warm, which Cobb explains as medics still trying to get a reading on whether she'll be like her father.
Cobb pushes the cadets hard in their training. As they go on break, the cadets start bantering with each other. When Spensa tries to join in, Hurl gives her a strange look. As Spensa prepares to return to her cavern, she realizes that FM is still in the room. FM thanks her for her earlier comments on Morningtide and Bim being in the stars, accompanying Spensa as the two leave the classroom. She tells Spensa that though a lot of her other comments, influenced by her society and circumstances, are overly jingoistic, that speech was heartfelt. Spensa is confused and asks her if she is a Defiant, and FM replies that she self-identifies as a Disputer, someone who protests the Defiants' war culture. Spensa questions if she is a coward then, causing FM to point out to her the irony in she of all people throwing around that term. FM says that while she is still willing to fight and defend their people against the Krell, she is unhappy with the way fighting is overglorified in Defiant culture, feeling that peaceful and nurturing tendencies are being stamped out or neglected. Spensa feels that she is only saying that due to having an easier life in one of the deeper caverns, but thinks it is nice to get to know her and her thoughts better. Afraid of getting into trouble with the MPs if she gets too close to the mess hall, Spensa heads back to the classroom. She sees that Cobb is watching a hologram of yesterday's battle, and watching it brings back feelings of anticipation and a little fear. As he goes over the part where Morningtide dies, Spensa admits that she nearly blacked out when pulling off the dive in her maneuver to get rid of the Krell tailing her. Cobb tells Spensa that the way she flies reminds him of her father, in the way that she feels things. He then comments on the guardian ships accompanying the Krell being the first new tactical change in over a decade, and that they've been able to survive by anticipating the enemy's moves. Cobb gives Spensa a personal radio, saying that she needs it to stay in touch since she lives off-base. Spensa asks why Cobb himself doesn't fly anymore, and he replies that it is because of his old wounds. She is confused since a healthy leg is not needed to pilot a plane, and Cobb says it's the metaphorical wound of shooting down a comrade. Spensa realizes that Cobb was the one who shot down her father, and asks about what happened. Cobb says that the Krell were coming in overwhelming numbers, that Spensa's father panicked and started shouting about how they couldn't hope to survive after they fended off the first attack, and that after Chaser broke ranks and fled, he shot him down on his flightleader's orders. Spensa asks if this was really the way it happened, and can tell from the way he stays silent that his account, the official story, is not true. Spensa tries to inquire further, but Cobb shuts her down and tells her to go away. As she leaves, part of Spensa is upset over her flightmates' death and this new revelation, but she is satisfied over being right on her father not being a coward.
Rig and Spensa are back in the cave working on M-Bot, arguing about why the DDF would cover up Spensa's father's betrayal. Spensa is also still mourning Bim and Morningtide. Rig believes that once they repair M-Bot, he will be FAST, even faster than the scouts. Rig also explains where he has been getting all of his spare parts and how impressed his superiors are at his detailed copying of M-Bot's rotating side, capable of further limiting the effects of high g-forces on the human body. Rig and Spensa continue arguing about a DDF-wide cover up, when M-Bot answers Spensa's question about why the DDF would lie with his own theory, the Greater Argument for Human-Originated Chaos(GAFHOC). Because humans have free will, they are impossible to completely predict, unlike machines, who are designed to execute commands given through lines of code. Rig informs Spensa that he still needs to look over M-Bot's intakes, thrusters, joints, atmospheric scoops, and GravCaps. He Also informs Spensa that she'll need to find a way to get a central booster from any starship with one anywhere from A-17 to A-32. These engines are only found on DDF starships, which would require Spensa to commit treason. Rig informs Spensa that M-Bot is equipped with a cleansing pod, a luxury only the rich in the lower cavers have. Spensa lowers herself in, and takes a good, long, relaxing soak.
Cobb declares that he is satisfied with Skyward Flight's skill with light-lances, and tells them to move on to training with IMPs. Spensa tries to talk to Hurl over a private channel, but Hurl gives her a cold shoulder. Cobb tells Spensa to give an explanation on shields, then adds that IMPs only work in a tight filthy-meter radius and disables the pilot's own shields as well, but that they are needed to negate the Krell's advantage of better shields. Spensa starts practicing IMPing simulated Krell ships with Nedd, her partner for the day. Nedd complains about the exercises being boring, but Spensa enjoys it and feels closer to her father when flying, even if it is only in a simulation. After completing a particularly difficult run, Spensa talks to Nedd for a bit, pointing out that Nedd isn't as dumb as he presents himself to be. Kimmalyn and Hurl mess up a run, with Kimmalyn losing control and crashing. Nedd teases her over it, and when Spensa tries to stop him, he tells her that she needs to be teased a bit to help her deal with the anxiety over being the worse pilot in the class. They move on to talking about Hurl. M-Bot juts in, and Spensa asks him how he got into their lines. He replies that he is an stealth ship that has advanced communications technology, and got in through her personal radio. Kimmalyn messes up another run, and Spensa thinks about how they're wasting her potential while practicing fundamentals. Cobb tells Spensa that it's her turn, and as she starts flying, she sees that she has a tail even though the exercise is supposed to be one-on-one. Spensa manages to IMP her target, but takes damage in the process. Jorgen chastises her, saying that she'd be dead if it were a real battle, and she retorts that she accomplished her objective. Cobb sides with Jorgen, before telling them to do some monotonous gamma-M formation exercises and leaving. Spensa is frustrated during the entire exercise, refusing to talk to even M-Bot. After finishing, Spensa stews by herself and ignores Jorgen's orders for lineup. He starts arguing with her over her constantly disobeying his orders. Incensed, Spensa attacks Jorgen, getting on top of him and preparing a punch. Nedd is impressed, and the other cadets are shocked. Spensa lets go, and Jorgen complains about her assaulting a superior officer. The two exchange a hard look before Spensa grabs her pack and leaves.
Spensa sits on one of the benches in the orchard near the DDF complex contemplating her fight with Jorgen and her imminent expulsion from the Flight School. She then turns on M-Bot's radio and finally explains to him the Krell's goal of wiping out the human race. She then realizes that she is hurting humanity's cause by jeopardizing her place in the Flight School by getting in a petty squabble with her flightleader. Humanity needs as many capable pilots as they can get. Her father's words mantra of "Set your sights on something higher" echoes in her mind before she asks M-Bot if he has any memories of what human civilization was like before they came to Detritus. She heads over to Cobb's office, which is dark, so instead asks a passing aide where the admiral would be to which the aide responds that the admiral doesn't have time for cadets and to find her flight instructor. Spensa answers, and the aide asks her if she has a complaint, to which Spensa responds yes, and is given the information that Admiral Ironsides is in Building C. As Spensa is heading over, M-Bot plays Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony over the radio and Spensa is overcome with awe and amazement, as the only music on Detritus consists of trios of musicians, however, the Symphony must have taken hundreds of performers who had spent thousands of hours perfecting each of their instruments, hours humans on Detritus only used to survive. She again thinks of her father's words, "Set your sights on something higher." She then proceeds to Ironsides' office, only for Ironsides to exit the building with Jorgen in tow. Spensa begins to demand punishment, only for Jorgen to slam the door as a distraction, and he then leads her away from Ironsides. Spensa, confused, asks Jorgen why he wouldn't let her turn herself in, to which he responds that the flight can't lose another pilot. He apologizes for calling her out in front of everyone else, and she tells him that it was her who stole his hover car's power matrix. He is astounded, but again brushes it aside for the good of the flight. Spensa's view of Jorgen changes here, as she realizes although he may be rude sometimes, he is a good leader, always putting the flight before himself.
Spensa settles into the cockpit of her Poco-class starfighter for the first time since Bim and Morningtide died. The rest of Skyward Flight and her are going on another training routine. Cobb directs them to a set of coordinates, where five full-fledged DDF flights are monitoring a large group of falling debris, having lost orbit. They are all present in case the Krell come to prevent the humans from obtaining more acclivity rings. Skyward Flight is there to have some target practice, as their destructors have been outfitted with beacons to tag valuable space junk. The members of the flight go out in pairs to tag the junk for a while, as Spensa and Cobb argue over radio about whether or not they're using Kimmalyn's talent as a gunner and poor skills as a fighter pilot correctly. After a while M-Bot begins to talk to her, when all of a sudden, the sky begins to darken and an absolute behemoth of a piece of space junk slowly comes into view, descending towards Detritus. On the bottom of it are hundreds if decaying acclivity rings, and with the falling piece of junk come 30 Krell fighters. Cobb instructs the flight to flee the fight, only for Spensa to get tailed on the way out. While she's being chased, M-Bot reveals that the behemoth rock is in fact half of a C-137-KJM orbital shipyard with an added delver training facility. Kimmalyn snipes the Krell after it breaks Spensa's shield, and Nedd sees six Krell tailing two members of Nightstorm Flight, who he follows. Spensa goes after him to act as wingmate, but the two members of Nightstorm Flight go through a hole in the shipyard, along with the six Krell and Nedd, forcing Spensa to follow.
Spensa and Nedd continue to tail the six Krell fighters and the members of Nightstorm Flight, unable to contact them, as cadet radios aren't connected to full DDF radios for fear of interfering. The two cadets continue flying through the falling shipyard at Mag-1.2, and M-Bot resumes contact with Spensa after having taken a more accurate, updated battle projection. He informs Spensa that the Krell are laying explosives on the shipyard and shooting some of the acclivity rings on the bottom to make the shipyard fall faster. Spensa reaches Nedd on radio, and breaks the truth to him that they can no longer help the members of Nightstorm, as they aren't yet skilled enough and the shipyard is going to hit the ground in a matter of minutes. He calls her a coward, and M-Bot directs Spensa on which turns to take to escape the shipyard as quickly as possible. They find an opening, and fly away at Mag-10.5 to escape the blast wave of the falling shipyard. When Spensa and Nedd return to the flight and later the launchpad, Jorgen angrily asks her why she led Nedd into the shipyard, to which she finally responds that Nedd made the first move, following two members of Nightstorm Flight, and that she had followed him to act as his wingmate. Jorgen balks, and then leads her over to where Nightstorm Flight has left their Sigo-class starfighters. Nedd is there on one knee in front of where two starships should have been. Jorgen explains to Spensa that the two empty spaces should have been filled by Nedd's two brothers, wingmates Nightstorm Six and Seven.
Skyward Flight continues practicing chase exercises, without Nedd. M-Bot tells Spensa he could've hacked into Nedd's brothers' radio to help them escape the shipyard, which would have required Spensa to explain to the DDF why she could suddenly hack their private communication network. Spensa is shot down by a Krell fighter in their exercise, and exits her mockpit to take a break. Arturo and Cobb continue their argument about what the Krell's true intention in destroying sinking debris is, when Spensa finally asks Cobb what the Krell are. He shares some confidential pictures of Krell extracted from their fighters with the flight and that the human archive was destroyed in LD-zero, so they really don't know much about the Krell. He further explains that the Krell can't destroy the junk before it leaves the atmosphere because of the archaic defense system the planet has: a broken down metal she'll with countless AI-managed turrets that would destroy the Krell if they went anywhere near the space junk. Cobb then explains the best theory the DDF has as to what the Krell are is AI, which prompts Spensa to ask M-Bot if he is a Krell AI after the class is dismissed. M-Bot tells Spensa he is not, and Cobb informs her that Nedd has been removed from the flight school roll permanently. Whilst leaving the flight school, Kimmalyn discreetly pulls Spensa into another hallway, then to a bathroom, where they wait for two members of Stardragon Flight to leave. From there, they head to the Skyward girls' dorm, where the rest of the girls wait with food stolen from the mess hall for Spensa.
The girls hang out in the dorm, making conversation and eating soup and bread, until Hurl enters the room, holding a slice of chocolate cake for each of the girls. FM informs Spensa that they have a pool and organized sports at the flight school, which Spensa wishes she could participate in. The girls then show Spensa the flight maneuvers they've come up with, and Spensa admits that sometimes she gets scared. Kimmalyn admits that not all of the quotations of the Saint she gives are actually from the Saint. After a few hours of talking, Kimmalyn and FM go to the bathroom, and Hurl tells Spensa that she's sorry that she compared Spensa to her father, and the two make a pact to be brave and to never back down.
Spensa wakes up before the girls and leaves to cleanse herself. She passes by the classroom, and sees the lights on, at 0530 no less. She peeks in, and sees Jorgen replaying the fight where Bim and Morningtide had died. She leaves the flight school, fearing that the MPs will report to Admiral Ironsides that she never left the flight school. Spensa turns on her radio, and M-Bot tells her he doesn't know whether or not he's a Krell, but Spensa doesn't believe he is anymore. Spensa then reenters the flight school, and an MP stops her and brings her to Admiral Ironsides. Ironsides tells Spensa she knows that Spensa has a hidey-hole at the flight school and that she's been stealing food from the mess hall, and Spensa tells her she has to protect the other girls. Ironsides tells her to quit, and that the cadet's pin will get her a lucrative job down below, and Spensa realizes the Ironsides can't simply kick her out of the flight school, she needs to prove that she was right to not want Spensa in the flight school, that she's dangerous and not suited for flight. She calls Spensa a coward, but Spensa holds a salute and walks away from Ironsides knowing that she has more power than the head of the entire Defiant Defense Force in this matter.
Ironsides watches a holographic replay of the battle over the space shipyard. She thinks about old stories about generals in the past who boldly led from the front, and on how she is inadequate compared to those people. Ironsides notes that salvage crews reported that most of the acclivity rings are too damaged to use, and thinks to herself that her indecisiveness and unwillingness to commit were what led to them being unable to take the rings. She and her aide Rikolfr then move on to discussing Spensa's actions in the battle, noting that her helmet readings indicate the Writellum section of her brain being highly active around the Krell, and that it is proof she has a "defect". Rikolfr notes that while Dr. Halbeth is convinced, Dr. Thior, head of Alta Base's medical department, is not. Ironsides thinks about how the defect caused a mutiny on the Defiant, the specifics of which a lot of merited families are trying to cover up due to being descendants of those who sided with the mutineers, but that she herself knows of the defect's dangers due to seeing them firsthand. Rikolfr reports that NAL member Algernon Weight, father of Jorgen, is supporting Dr. Thior's doubt, and helping propose questions on whether Spensa could just be used as a symbol of redemption instead of being driven out. Ironsides is irritated, and has orders sent to Drs. Halbeth and Iglom to refute Dr. Thior's claims. She is determined to make sure the defect doesn't cause any problems in the future.
Spensa and Rig are back in the cave, working on M-Bot, applying sealant to the wing and placing metal sheets on it to patch where the broken metal had been. Rig then asks Spensa to consider what she would do if her father actually had been a coward, if he had had a moment of weakness, just like all humans, and that the DDF just made a big deal out of it so they could train their pilots to be brave. Rig then reveals that he thinks FM is cute, and then tells Spensa that M-Bot is ready to fly. Spensa gets in the cockpit and fires M-Bot up. His boosters are non-functional, and his cytonic hyperdrive is still missing, but his acclivity rings are still in order. Spensa light-lances part of the ceiling to cave in, and then rises into the air with M-Bot for the first time. While climbing to 100,000 feet, M-Bot informs Spensa that his GravCaps are capable of belaying 60% of g-forces, far more than standard DDF starfighters are capable of. They climb further to 500,000 feet, halfway to the rubble belt, where Spensa stops to admire the sheer scale of the planet and how small and meaningless humans are in the grand scheme of the planet. Whilst peacefully hovering at 500,000 feet, Spensa swears she can hear the stars in the back of her mind, calling for her to come to them. She dismisses this notion, as if she went much higher, the defense system within the rubble belt would begin targeting her. Spensa begins trying to convince M-Bot that he is capable of combat with the Krell during the descent, but he puts down her argument by stating that he is unable to disobey his orders to lie low. M-Bot puts his hologram of the cave ceiling back on to hide from the DDF, and Spensa reclines in the cockpit seat to fall asleep, when she begins to hear a dull hum in the back of her mind, a hum she attributes to M-Bot, leading her to believe that he is more alive than she had previously thought.
Skyward Flight are back practicing dogfighting maneuvers in their mockpits, and Hurl explains to Spensa her previous occupation as a Digball League player. Spensa tells her she was a rat hunter in her own personal maze of caverns. Spensa and Hurl start working better as a team, with Spensa flying in close to the Krell to activate her IMP and Hurl hanging back to pick off the Krell once its shield goes down. At 1600, Cobb cuts the dogfighting exercise short and makes a holographic Krell bomber carrying a lifebuster and begins teaching the tactics and practices of scouting out and reporting lifebusters, having the flight perform hour-long exercises with six decoy lifebusters and one real one, as well as entire exercises without a single lifebuster. They do these exercises for hours, until all of the flight members are exhausted and dismissed to return to their dorms, but not before Arturo asks if the last battle simulation they underwent was the Battle of Trajerto. Cobb says that it was, with modifications. This gets Spensa thinking that the DDF may have a true Battle of Alta file hidden away that proves her father wasn't a coward. While trudging back to her cave, Spensa gets a transmission over the radio for all pilots -including cadets - to report to base for possible deployment. A force of 75 Krell fighters have breached the debris field, three quarters of their maximum flight capacity. Spensa begins the long jog back to the launchpad.
Spensa makes it to the DDF compound, sweaty and out of breath. She goes to her ship, only to find another pilot climbing into her Poco. She manages to convince the pilot, Vigor, and the ground crew to let her fly instead. Dorgo, one of the ground crew, gives Spensa her helmet and tells her where the coordinates to her flight is. Spensa takes off and contacts Jorgen, who tells her that he's glad to see that she made it, and that they are holding position near some AA guns. Ten minutes later, Spensa arrives and takes up wingmate position besides Hurl. The two talk about killing Krell, and start inching out of line before Jorgen orders them back into position. The cadets start talking about the nearby battle, and Cobb tells them that they are merely holding position and should just wait until some reserve pilots get there to take over. Hurl expresses irritation at not being able to fight, and Jorgen tells her that they need to follow orders and not argue with their commanders. After waiting for a while, Cobb radios in again, telling them that the scouts spotted a squadron of eight Krell ships trying to sneak past the main battle, and that they need to engage and find out if there's a bomber. Two scouts, Cloak and Underscore, call in and tell Jorgen that they are joining their flight for the battle. Spensa flies with Hurl after a Krell ship. She focuses on targeting the Krell interceptor, almost feeling like she can anticipate its movements, her helmet sensors growing warm. Her concentration is broken by Kimmalyn asking for help. Spensa, Hurl, and FM break off to help her deal with the three tails she has. Spensa and Hurl then shoot down a stray Krell ship using the IMPing maneuver Cobb taught them. Spensa takes a quick survey of the fight, and realizes that Kimmalyn is being chased by three ships again, and is in trouble. Spensa asks everyone to make a V-formation with her at the point, explaining that the Krell tend to target flightleaders when possible. The maneuver saves Kimmalyn, but Spensa ends up with four tails, and her ship takes heavy destructor fire with her shield going down. The AA gunners and Arturo take down most of the Krell after Spensa, relieving her. Spensa sees Hurl being chased by three Krell, and pulls into a risky steep dive to get closer, and IMPs the Krell. The chaotic battle continues with Hurl managing to shoot the ship she was targeting, but her shield down. Spensa, too far away to help after reigniting her shield, tells Kimmalyn to shoot the ships chasing after Hurl. Kimmalyn tries to hit the ships, but misses, and Hurl's unshielded ship gets hit by the Krell, with one of the wings getting destroyed and the acclivity ring giving out. Spensa tells Hurl to eject, but Hurl refuses, declaring that she is not a coward and is brave to the end. Hurl's ship crashes on the ground, with Spensa staring at it in shock. Jorgen orders Skyward Flight to pull out, and then pulls up besides Spensa, who is starting to cry, when she doesn't respond. Spensa replies that she hears him, and pulls out with the rest of the cadets. Spensa notes that Arturo's ship is badly damaged. Watching the other pilots in the battle, Spensa realizes she needs a lot more practice to be ready. As the cadets head back to base, Spensa's hands are shaking, which she sees as a sign of cowardice.
Spensa wakes up in the infirmary, to which she had been sent to be checked over and ordered to stay in overnight. She forces herself out of bed and collects her belongings and goes to clean herself up. A nurse gives her a paper telling her that she and the rest of her flight were given a week of medical leave by Dr. Thior. Not knowing where to go, Spensa heads to her classroom, still stunned over Hurl's death. As the time for class draws closer, everyone else in the flight other than Jorgen also enter. Jorgen shows up ten minutes later, and unlike what Spensa expects, simply orders everyone to line up instead of dismissing them. He has a message sent to notify Cobb about everyone still going to class, and waits with the rest of the class. Quite a while later, Cobb comes in, and yells at them to sit down when they try to salute him. He goes into a loud rant about ejecting if their ship starts falling out of control, instead of listening to what the rest of the DDF says about always trying to save their ship. Spensa starts arguing with Cobb after he calls Hurl an idiot, and at one point calls him a coward. Cobb deflates and just says that Hurl's death was meaningless. He turns to leave, but stops when he sees Kimmalyn standing up and dropping her cadet's pin on her seat. He tells her to keep the pin and that she is dismissed. Spensa and Jorgen try to dissuade her from quitting, but Kimmalyn insists that she is the weakest member in the flight and is dragging everyone down, and says that she discussed it with Cobb. She expresses her guilt over being responsible for getting Hurl killed, and Spensa tries to comfort her. Kimmalyn leaves the room without her pin. Spensa turns to Jorgen and sees him standing with a pained look in his eyes. She gets information on how far Hurl crashed from Alta Base, and tells her classmates that she is going to give Hurl a proper funeral.
Spensa walks towards the crash site. M-Bot contacts her on her radio to ask if it is a good idea, but Spensa tells him to leave her alone. She has gone around two hours from Alta when a hovercar approaches and Jorgen stops to ask if she is really going to walk all the way there considering how dangerous it is outside. He offers to give her a ride, and she reluctantly accepts it since it will cut the trip down from days into hours. Jorgen tells Spensa that he wants to go with her to Hurl's funeral, and that he brought materials for a pyre. Jorgen tries to talk to her as they drive, but Spensa shuts him down and asks if he really cares. She then asks why he puts up with her, and Jorgen replies that even though she is insubordinate, she saved Nedd and helps save lives when she flies with the team. Spensa points out that Hurl and Kimmalyn are still gone from the flight, and Jorgen replies that it is his duty as flightleader to keep everyone together. Jorgen calls the AA-gun battery to keep them from being shot at as they pass, and they soon locate Hurl's wreck afterwards. They get out of the car and walk to the wreck, before heading to where the cockpit is. Spensa looks in and confirms to herself that Hurl really is dead. Examining the skid marks made by the crash, Spensa realizes that Hurl was nearly horizontal at the end, almost managing to safely land her ship. Jorgen takes a look in the cockpit, before turning away. Spensa sticks herself in and pulls Hurl's pin off her body. She thinks about the defiant expression on Hurl's face and wonders if it mattered whether someone was brave or cowardly in they died in the end, before chastising herself for being disrespectful. Jorgen gets the supplies out of the car and they set up a pyre around the cockpit, before Spensa ignites it. The two stand back and Jorgen recites part of an officer's elegy. The two stay and watch as the fire burns itself out. Jorgen tells Spensa that he isn't really defiant, since he is just going with what his family wants, and will be pulled out of the DDF after spending six months as a full pilot and gaining enough of a reputation in politics. He adds that he will miss flying, and that controlled joyrides won't be enough after he has experienced piloting a starfighter. Spensa comments that even though Jorgen's father isn't called a coward, he still is trapped in his shadow. As the fire dies down, Spensa comments that Hurl was more like her than she herself in some ways. The two start to go back to the car, when Spensa looks over the wreck again and sees how Hurl managed to keep some parts of the ship intact, the booster included. She thinks to herself for a moment before asking Jorgen for help moving the booster.
As they drive back, Jorgen tells Spensa that he is catching on to her intentions of building a starship. He says that if she found a crashed ship, she should turn it in to the DDF. Spensa replies that Ironsides has a grudge against her and won't let her fly, so she has to find her own way around things. Jorgen chastises her on the impracticality of her plan, and asks if Spensa is really just going to run away from the DDF. He provides that if he got the chance, he would hire her to fly his private ships instead, but admits that the slots are fiercely competed over and she would need a good reputation to take one. As they approach Alta, Spensa asks for Jorgen to drop her and the booster off near her cavern. As Jorgen drives back to base by himself, Spensa thinks to herself on how he somehow has even less freedom than herself. She greets M-Bot and tells him that she brought him the gift of freedom.
Spensa presents Rig with the booster, and Rig confirms that he will probably be able to fit the booster into M-Bot. Rig asks Spensa to mention him in her speech when she hits ace, as well as name her firstborn son after him, to which she responds that she has already planned to name him Executioner Destructorius. Spensa goes back into the cockpit while Rig tries to figure out how to put the booster into M-Bot, and M-Bot and Spensa strike up a conversation about the human fear of death and free will, among others. Rig tells Spensa that the shield design M-Bot had that he took to his superiors didn't go through because he simply couldn't explain it, they'd need professional engineers to take M-Bot apart and reverse engineer his best features. After Rig tells her he won't need her help for a few days, Spensa exits the cave and sets off at a brisk pace for Alta Base, in search of the true holorecording of the Battle of Alta.
Spensa gets back to Alta Base and heads to Cobb's office, where he is working at his desk. Cobb tells her that FM has been looking for her, and the radio frequency for contacting her flightmates. Spensa steels herself before telling Cobb about getting Hurl's pin and handing it over. Cobb is a bit irritated over her and Jorgen not getting permission with the salvage crews. Spensa adds that they gave Hurl a pilot's burial and asks that the pin be given to Hurl's family. Cobb tells her that she can get off lightly this time, but should try to avoid making trouble. Spensa comments that her medical leave is frustrating and she doesn't know what to do with the time, to which Cobb agrees. She then asks if she can go watch recordings of old battles, and Cobb quickly agrees and gives her his authorization code to enter, to her surprise. Cobb tells her that cadets aren't supposed to be allowed in the archives and that she can use the excuse of fetching things for him as an excuse. As she turns to leave, Cobb tells her that sometimes the answers one needs don't match the questions she's asking and that a coward can make fools of wiser men, before dismissing her. As Spensa heads to the archives, she realizes that Cobb spotted the fact that she wanted to watch the Battle of Alta, and is confused as to why he simply let her do it. She looks around for a while, before finding the right case. Spensa sees that there are no viewing devices nearby, and so just takes the case. She walks out, deep in thought about how much she owes Cobb and where she is going to watch the battle recording. Distracted, Spensa is startled by FM spotting her, and lets her flightmate lead her out of the base and towards some buildings she hasn't paid attention to before.
FM pulls Spensa into a dimly-lit restaurant mostly occupied by young pilots and cadets. FM leads Spensa to a table where Kimmalyn, Nedd and Arturo, along with his friend Bryn are sitting. FM gets Spensa a purple, bubbly drink and a basket of fries, both extremely delicious compared to the rats she's been eating for months. The group reminisces about Hurl, and Spensa tells them what she and Jorgen did. When Bryn gets up to use the restroom, only members of the original flight remain, and they begin talking about the hushed up true strategy of the Krell, and why the Defiants know so little about them. Spensa enjoys a third basket of fries, before leaving the restaurant to find out once and for all what really went down at the Battle of Alta.
Spensa plugs the recording into M-Bot's systems, and the ship's holoprojectors start playing the Battle of Alta. Spensa notes to herself that M-Bot has better projectors than the DDF, and can see the ships in clear detail. She watches the earlier parts of the battle and using her knowledge of flight tactics, sees how desperate the fight was. Spensa picks out a single ship that seems to fly better than the others, correctly guessing that it is Chaser. As she continues to watch, she gains a new respect for the First Citizens, thinking that while their government system is still flawed, they were brave. The recording progresses to the point where the Krell are repelled for the first time, where Chaser was said to break ranks. Spensa sees her father's ship pull away from his flight, but then head upwards to a hole in the debris instead of fleeing, presumably to track down where the Krell come from. She feels vindicated, now certain that the DDF were lying about her father's cowardice. She starts telling M-Bot about her thoughts, and M-Bot fast-forwards the recording a little. Chaser's ship returns from above, reaching the rest of his flight before IMPing them. Shocked, Spensa watches as her father attacks his own flightmates and other First Citizens, supported by the Krell. He shoots down four allied ships, including his flightmates Rally and Antique, before Cobb manages to shoot him down. Spensa spends the rest of the recording staring at the projected wreckage of Chaser's ship and ignoring the rest of the battle. She then asks M-Bot if the data could have been faked, and he tells her that it is authentic. Spensa wonders aloud what her father saw up there that made him turn against his allies, to which M-Bot replies that her father said something unusual when he saw the hole in the sky in the voice recordings. She asks him to play that section, and hears Chaser pleading with Ironsides to let him fly up there, claiming that he can hear the stars. She relents, and Chaser's ship leaves ranks. Spensa then asks if her father said anything after he came back down, and M-Bot gives her a single clip, in which he mournfully declares that he would kill everyone. Spensa asks why the DDF would hide what happened to her father when the truth was worse. M-Bot comments that he doesn't know enough to give a good answer. Numb, Spensa climbs into the cockpit and goes to sleep, ignoring M-Bot's attempts to talk to her.
Spensa spends a day sleeping in M-Bot's cockpit, trying to process what her father did, while Rig continues to work on M-Bot. After a day of sleeping, her period of leave is over and she reports to the classroom at 0630. All of the mockpits have exposed wires and parts missing, as they have had work done on them while the pilots had their periods of leave, and Cobb informs them that because they only have five weeks of flight school left, they will be practicing exclusively in real starfighters. The cadets report to the launchpad, and take their normal Pocos, except for Arturo, whose ship is still awaiting a shield igniter replacement, so is forced to board Kimmalyn's old ship, Skyward Six. Spensa begins climbing the ladder to Skyward Ten, and turns around to ask something of the ground crew, only to see Cobb standing there. Cobb hands her her helmet and informs her that Flight Command is still monitoring her brain. He also hands her a memo from Dr. Thior, who was tipped off that Spensa was residing in a cave in the wilderness and living off rats. Cobb indirectly tells her that it was he who left the tip, to which she is extremely grateful, even to tears. She then asks Cobb if what happened in the holorecording is true, and Cobb grimly nods, telling her the look he saw in Chaser before he was forced to shoot him down haunts Cobb to this day. Spensa then asks him if the doctors can really determine if she'll do what her father did just by scanning her brain, and Cobb tells her it's utter nonsense, that a person can't inherit cowardice, and that they are responsible for forging their own path. He then, noticeably more quietly, asks Spensa if she's ever seen "the eyes" and if she could ever hear the stars. She is horrified that Cobb knows, but refuses to tell him for fear of him insisting that she exit the cockpit and quit flying.
Spensa, Arturo, and FM are on scout duty with a woman callsigned Blaze, and she explains to them that if they become scouts, they will be issued a Val-class ship with normal 138 Stewart destructor traded out for a single 131, with much better sensors for detecting Krell ships. Blaze explains that it can be hard sometimes to continue scouting with a battle going on below, with every instinct screaming for you to descend and help your colleagues. Eventually the flight lands, and Spensa tells Siv that the ship has a couple of problems, but she leaves to go help a Camdon-class fighter who participated in the battle, ship smoking, to get out of his ship. Spensa , Arturo, FM, and Jorgen grouped up to go debrief with Cobb, only for them to find him standing next to a woman, Arturo's mother. He has been honorably discharged with a full pilot's pin, in order for him to go to the lower caverns to supervise cargo flights from other caverns. Walking back to the classroom, Spensa vents her anger about the rich, privileged kids having a leg up, getting into the flight school for free, with many of them already having flight experience, and then they get yanked once things get dicey. She and Jorgen hug for a while, and she feels better.
A few days later, Spensa and FM have dinner with members of Inkwell and Firestorm flights. The cadets discuss whether they'll be put together into a single flight, and what name they'll take. Spensa stays quiet and eats quickly, listening to the others talk. One of the other cadets, Drama, comments on Spensa being quiet, which she is thrown off by. After dinner, Spensa heads back to her cavern to check on M-Bot and Doomslug. Spensa greets M-Bot with the name Massacrebot, which he is irritated by, and Doomslug mimics Rig cursing and the sound of hammer on metal. Spensa finds a note from Rig on the ship's fuselage, informing her that his repair work is done and thanking her for helping him find a successful career with the Engineering Corps, closing off with telling her to enjoy her ship. Spensa excitedly prepares to fly M-Bot.
Spensa and Rig are back in the cave, ready to take M-Bot on another test run. Many more of M-Bot's capabilities are online, such as his life support and booster. He still lacks destructors, self-repair features, and his cytonic hyperdrive. With the booster attached and M-Bot superior GravCaps, Spensa is able to fly at Mag-10 without feeling a thing, even on sharp turns and loops. M-Bot then informs Spensa that he can project a battle for her, the Battle of Alta, which he made a copy of. He arms himself with holographic destructors, and changes the simulation each time Spensa kills a Krell fighter. As Spensa is about to pick another one off, another Defiant beats her to it, her father. Him and Cobb make a phenomenal team, with Chaser possessing the ability to constantly dodge and confuse the Krell to get close enough to IMP their shields, which allows Cobb to easily pick them off. Spensa begins trailing her father, but even with M-Bot's superior turning and speed, Chaser is still faster. She asks M-Bot to evaluate Chaser's reaction speed to the Krell's movements, only for M-Bot to tell her that her father is anticipating the Krell's movements, and moving before they do. Spensa then reaches the point in the holorecording where her father flies off into the hole in the debris shield, and she hears her father say he can hear the stars. She reaches for her father, and then hears a sound like a thousand intertwining musical notes. She imagines herself, as her Gran-Gran says, reaching for the stars. The cockpit goes black, and then all around her, millions of pinpricks of light turn on, eyes, focusing on her. She screams for M-Bot to turn it off, and he does, and she struggles for a moment, grappling with her sanity. She and M-Bot begin the descent to the cave, and M-Bot informs Spensa that he does not believe that he is still capable of convincing Spensa that she cannot take him into battle, so he informs her that he will power down and await his long-dead pilot to return. Spensa screams for him to stop, telling him this is suicide, that hid pilot is dead, to which he tells her that he knows, but he is incapable of disobeying the orders he was programmed to live by, to lie low and wait for his pilot to return. M-Bot powers down and Spensa is left in the pitch black of the powered-down cockpit.
With graduation looming, Cobb arranges for spin, FM, and Jorgen to practice in different types of ships, such as Largo and Slatra-class starships. Spensa continues to find herself distracted, thinking about the eyes and her father's betrayal. When the flight lands, Spensa doesn't talk to anyone and goes straight to the orchard. She doesn't find solace there, and sees Jorgen preparing to leave via hovercar, so goes over and talks to him. She tells him about her learning the truth about her father, a fact Jorgen already knew, and then he tells her she's worried she might to the same thing because she exhibits some of the same symptoms her father had, such as the eyes and claiming to hear the stars. Jorgen asks her if she knows about the mutiny aboard the Defiant. She says no, so Jorgen tells her that in the final days of the ship's voyage, there was a disagreement about what the fleet should do, so half of the ship rebelled against the command staff, including Spensa's ancestors, the engineers, and Jorgen's ancestors, the scientists. Some people thought the engineers had colluded with the Krell to put the last humans of Detritus, which is where the talk of the defect comes from. Jorgen then tells Spensa that she is amazing and that she inspires him, and Spensa's true feelings about Jorgen begin to boil over. He leaves, and she decides that with her half-day off, she needs to visit her family in Igneous Cavern.
Spensa heads down the elevator to Igneous, and when she exits, the people there part, letting her through, some soldiers even saluting her. Spensa goes to where her mother sells algae wraps to off-shift workers, her mother sees her, and runs over to embrace her. They go back to selling wraps, and Spensa realizes her mother thinks she's been kicked out of Flight School. Spensa shows her the jumpsuit and cadet pin and tells her that she'll graduate in two weeks. Spensa tells her mother that once she graduates, they can move into a bigger apartment and me rich, to which her mother tells her that the DDF made the same promise if she would simply publicly accept that her father was a coward. She opted not to, so remains poor and selling algae wraps as a show of public defiance. Spensa tells her mother of her fear of the defect, and her mother tells her it's made up, but that her Gran-Gran has a different opinion. Spensa goes to her old apartment and sees her Gran-Gran, near blind, sorting beads by color. She starts to help her, and her Gran-Gran asks her if she wants to hear a story about Alexander the Great, or Hervor, or Beowulf. Spensa tells her she is scared and confused and doesn't want to hear any more stories, and she asks her Gran-Gran if any of the people in the stories she tells Spensa are real. Gran-Gran tells Spensa it doesn't matter, as stories bring normal people hope. Spensa then tells Gran-Gran that she saw the holorecording of the Battle of Alta, and that it's true that her father turned coward. Gran-Gran considers this for a moment, then tells Spensa she's going to tell her a story. Spensa protests, but Gran-Gran tells her it is her own story, and Spensa stops, intrigued, as she's never heard a story about Gran-Gran before. Gran-Gran tells her a story about back when she was a little girl aboard the Defiant and her father, a historian, would tell her stories about great heroes from their days on Earth. It was Gran-Gran's mother who could hear the stars and power the ship to far away places. She then tells Spensa that the Defiant and its small fleet became involved in an intergalactic war, and the Krell began fighting them. They fought back, and the Captain of the Defiant ordered Gran-Gran's mother to take the ship somewhere, but she refused, and used all of her strength to send the Defiant to Detritus. Gran-Gran believes this is why the others hate Spensa and her , because they control where humanity can ultimately travel to, and now that they have no communal starship capable of traveling great distances, the others have no need of Spensa and her family's ability. As Spensa begins to climb down the ladder, Gran-Gran forcefully tells her to stop, and tells her that if the humans are to ever truly win and escape the Krell, they need someone like Spensa who can hear the stars.
The remaining members of Skyward Flight are scouting out salvageable debris with Nightmare Flight. Their flightleader, Nose, tells Bog and Tunestone to take Spensa and FM one way, while he tells Sushi and Nord to take Jerkface. Bog and Tunestone start making fun of Jorgen, but Spensa and FM rush to his defense, telling the full DDF pilots that he's a good flightleader and keeps them focused on their ultimate goal. Bog and Tunestone then shift their mockery to Spensa and FM, and Spensa tells them to watch out for the cadets going after the full members' kills and ace. Bog and Tunestone try to show off their lightlancing, Tunestone overshooting slightly, thinking that all the cadet flights have focused on destructor play and dogfighting. Spensa and FM perform a two-fourteen with a double flatline at the end and a V-sweep, expertly playing off the rocks and even each other, leaving the two full pilots and Nose stunned. After a period of awed silence, Nose asks them if they're looking for a flight when they graduate. FM declares she wants to be a scout, and Sushi, Nord, and Jorgen rejoin the radio channel. Spensa, FM, and Jorgen climb to 700,000 feet and Spensa begins to worry the defect will overtake her, this close to the stars. The cadets see something gargantuan falling through the debris field, and Spensa recognizes it as the other half of the C-137-KJM orbital shipyard that took Nightstorm Six and Seven's lives. They see the shipyard's turrets firing at something they can't quite see, and Jorgen reports the shipyard to Cobb and Nose, who relay it to Flight Command, as the shipyard likely contains hundreds of acclivity rings, just as its other half had. Suddenly, a group of Krell fighters break through the debris and turn towards the flight.
Skyward Flight split off from Nightmare Flight, and normal dogfighting ensues. Spensa, FM, and Jorgen employ a defensive strategy whilst waiting for Riptide Flight and two other flights of reinforcements. Spensa spots a lifebuster and reports it to Jorgen, who relays the message to Flight Command. Ironsides herself answers, and Spensa, who is in range and has a clear shot, asks if she can shoot. Ironsides denies her the opportunity, and Skyward Flight flies away. Aces from Riptide Flight begin engaging the lifebuster and its escort, and eventually the lifebuster and its escort pulls out. Bog reports a mayday over the radio, his is down and he's being trailed by four Krell. Skyward Flight fire destructor blasts into the mix, and three of the Krell head left, the last one heading right, hoping to cut Bog off. Spensa goes after the one, while Jorgen and FM go after the three. Spensa gains a tail shield trailing the one, and is hit multiple times with destructor blasts, bringing down her shield. She is hit with her shield down, and her wing catches fire. She tries to land the ship safely, but her vision is going red from the strain of the g-forces. She capitulates to Jorgen's command to eject, and blacks out. She wakes up in her seat on the ground of Detritus to a medic asking her if she's alright. She says she's fine and asks about the ship. The medic says the acclivity rings are unsalvageable, and tells Spensa the in-seat GravCaps prevented her spine from crushing itself. The medic flies Spensa back to base, where she is met by Admiral Ironsides, and formally dismissed from the flight school. She retains her cadet's badge and is told she will be put on a roll if the DDF needs emergency pilots in the future. Spensa holds a salute as Ironsides walks away, consigned to the fact that Skyward Flight will in fact graduate with two members.
Ironsides walks away from the launchpad and into the command building with Rikolfr, feeling a little guilty but dismissing the feeling. She approaches a small conference room, where three National Assembly Leaders are waiting, and briefly checks with Rikolfr over the shipyard recently spotted by scouts. The two enter the room, and Ironsides tries to put on a positive front, only to be interrupted by the NALs criticizing her handling of the DDF. Ironsides is internally frustrated because she doesn't have too many resources to work with, but holds it in, instead presenting the reports Rikolfr gave her on the shipyard, telling the NALs that if they manage to claim it, the DDF will have hundreds of new acclivity rings for their ships. She proposes that they send everything they have at the shipyard to claim it, emphasizing how important it is. The others comment on how it will be an all-or-nothing fight, like the Battle of Alta. Ironsides tells the NALs that she knows what the implications are and that they're out of options, and manages to convince the NALs to give their support.
Spensa attends the graduation ceremony, feeling conflicted as she watches Jorgen and FM receive their pilots' pins. Ironsides gives an unusually short speech and leads the graduates away, announcing that they have an operation to perform. Spensa is puzzled at why so many are needed as she watches a flight of ships take off. She turns to leave, but is stopped by Cobb, who asks her if she is simply going to give up, and also informs her that the DDF are trying to claim the shipyard she spotted earlier. Spensa tells him that she has the defect, and then morosely turns to leave, watching another flight take off. She is interrupted again by Nedd, who is looking to gather Skyward Flight's members for a party. Spensa tells him that Jorgen and FM are flying a mission, then follows Nedd. Spensa, Nedd, Arturo, and Kimmalyn gather around a radio from Arturo's family in a restaurant, listening to reports of the ongoing battle. It is mentioned that all the flights will be engaged, even the reservists. Finding the Assembly monitoring channel too dull, the cadets switch to listening to the actual flightleader radio channel. Cloak, a scout, reports that a hundred Krell ships have been spotted, meaning that the Krell are fully engaged as well. Ironsides orders the flights to protect the shipyard. Spensa imagines the grand battle that must be happening, as a bomber is spotted, and Ironsides orders them to drive it away, even though it will push it towards Alta. The cadets express frustration at their inability to do anything to help. They continue listening, tense, as the shipyard battle rages on, nervous about the bomber heading towards Alta. Cloak says that the bomber is moving faster than most, and Ironsides orders her flight to engage, only using scouts. Spensa inadvertently does Gran-Gran's exercise, and is startled and unnerved by the star-eyes and the unnatural things seeing her. The scouts manage to shoot down the bomber before it reaches the death zone, but FM announces that only three of the twelve scouts survived the blast. The cadets, getting even more frustrated at their helplessness, discuss the three private ships Arturo's family owns, and they make a plan to steal them, since they can't take the ships by consent. Spensa tells Arturo and Nedd to take Kimmalyn instead of her, and encourages the girl when she expresses doubt, saying that she herself can't fly. Alone, Spensa continues listening as a woman from an antiaircraft gun outpost contacts the flightleader channel and announces that her post was destroyed by the lifebuster, and that she has spotted Krell ships heading towards her position. Ironsides hurriedly orders Riptide Flight to head back, but there isn't enough time for them to make a difference. Spensa decides that she has to do something, and realizes that there is still a single ship in Alta Base she could use.
Spensa hesitates for a moment, but decides to go anyway, chastising herself for being afraid to discover who she is. She thinks about using M-Bot, but can't because the ship has shut down. Instead, she heads towards Alta Base, and asks the ground crew to prepare Arturo's broken-down ship for her to use. Dorgo protests, but Spensa insists that someone needs to stop the second group of Krell, and he relents. As they prepare, Dorgo tells Spensa that while the ship's destructors are functional, the shield system is entirely burned out and the acclivity ring is not working very well. The preparations finish, and Spensa takes off.
Ironsides watches the Krell ships draw closer to Alta in the command center, realizing that the shipyard battle was a ploy to leave Alta Base exposed. She solemnly thinks to herself that she's doomed humankind, when a single DDF fighter shows up on the monitor. Ironsides asks Rikolfr if one of the private ship owners decided to help, but he tells her that they are all evacuating. Spensa contacts the flightleader channel and announces her presence.
Ironsides contacts Spensa on her radio, giving her the coordinates for the Krell after Spensa insists on it. Spensa tells the admiral that reinforcements might be coming (in the form of her former flightmates managing to steal ships) and that her Poco's shield isn't working, then heads in to fight the Krell. She notices and radios in about spotting a lifebuster, and Ironsides orders her to try and take out the bomber. The Krell ships try to distract Spensa, which she doesn't fall for, but she is unable to get to the bomber either. As she flies, Spensa realizes that she can somehow hear the commands being sent to the Krell ships.
Ironsides watches the battle hologram as Spensa continues evading and surviving the fifteen Krell ships' attacks. She worries that the other pilots won't be able to get back in time to help. Rikolfr asks if she's ever seen maneuvering like that, and she thinks back to Chaser.
Spensa manages to get a fifth hit on the bomber, and hopes that its shields will soon be down. Jorgen contacts her on the radio, telling her that he and Riptide Flight will be arriving soon. Spensa takes a hit on the nose from one of the black guardian ships, and realizes she can't hear them like she can for the other ships. She tries to hit the bomber, but realizes that her destructors were taken out by the damage to her ship's nose. Ironsides tells her that the bomber is almost to the death zone, a projected area in which a lifebuster would destroy Alta. She tells her to take the bomber down even if it does enter that range, in order to protect Igneous. Spensa announces her plan to ram the bomber and prepares to do so. Suddenly, the acclivity ring on her battered ship stops working and Spensa drops into a steep, out-of-control dive.
Spensa considers ejecting, but then realizes that she is the only one stopping the Krell from reaching Igneous. She turns off her ship's atmospheric scoop, opting to fly through lift instead. Spensa tries to gain enough altitude, but fails and crashes. Arturo calls in, announcing that they are coming. Flight Command orders her to leave the wreckage after learning her ship is nonfunctional, but Spensa is stuck in her straps. A Krell bomber escort ship flies over, firing at Spensa's wreckage. She is saved by Cobb flying M-Bot, who defeats the Krell ship by throwing it into the ground with a light-lance. Cobb lands, and M-Bot greets Spensa. Spensa tells Cobb that she does have the defect and can hear the Krell, but Cobb and M-Bot tell her that it doesn't matter at this point. M-Bot reveals that he rewrote part of his programming to accept Spensa as his pilot instead. Spensa climbs in, and as they lift off, tells M-Bot to go at full speed and to turn off the stealth system so that the Krell can see her coming.
Ironsides watches as the Krell forces get closer to Alta. She hears powerful families radioing that they will flee to deeper caverns and thinks of them as cowards, though she isn't surprised. Rikolfr informs her that there is a little under five minutes until the bomber reaches Alta, and Ironsides refuses when he asks her if they should evacuate the command center to one of the deeper caverns. She contacts Arturo, and tells him to shoot down the bomber despite it being in the death zone, saying that Alta is irrelevant now. A technician yells at her about an unidentified ship moving at a speed beyond what DDF ships are capable of. Ironsides thinks they might be attacked by another Krell ship, but then Spensa radios in.
As Spensa flies M-Bot at a speed much faster than the broken-down Poco's, but M-Bot reports that the destructors are offline, meaning her ship doesn't have functional weapons. M-Bot tries to comfort her by saying that his vocal aggression subroutine is working, and makes dramatic declarations over the general channel to her flightmates. Spensa tells them that she found another ship, and asks Kimmalyn, Nedd, and Arturo to stand by while she sees how the Krell react to her. A lot of Krell ships peel off from the main group and give chase. Arturo tells her that Riptide Flight will be coming soon, with Jorgen and perhaps FM. Spensa asks Arturo and Nedd to harry the bomber and try to drive it off, but Ironsides interrupts and asks them to shoot it down instead, even though it will destroy Alta and kill the admiral in the process. Spensa tells Kimmalyn to stay back and aim at the bomber, making Kimmalyn express doubt on a private channel about being able to handle such an important role. Spensa tells her that since her own ship's destructors are broken, only Kimmalyn can handle the shot. M-Bot's shields are hit a few times, causing him to make more overly blown insults at the Krell, and embarrasses Spensa when she realizes her own dramatic boasts sound similar. Spensa continues flying around, and realizes she can somehow react to the Krell commands she hears without consciously deciding to make those maneuvers, and feels as though she can feel M-Bot. Arturo radios in that they can't distract the guardian ships. Terrier, leader of Riptide Flight, arrives and Spensa tells him to have his flight harass the other Krell ships. He protests, but Jorgen vouches for Spensa. Spensa tells Jorgen and FM to get close to the bomber and use the group of Krell ships tailing Spensa as a distraction to set off an IMP on the bomber. She then tells Kimmalyn over a private channel to fire a shot that will make the bomber drop the lifebuster without setting it off while its shield is down. Kimmalyn is nervous, but Spensa gives her some encouragement. Spensa suddenly hears a command setting a timer for the bomb to detonate in 100 seconds, confusing M-Bot. FM tells her they got in an IMP, and Spensa tells Kimmalyn to fire. The shot hits the bomber's clamps, dropping the bomb. Terrier orders everyone to get out of the way, and all the other ships, including the Krell, scatter. Spensa herself instead dives towards the falling lifebuster.
Ironsides observes in the command center as Terrier, flightleader of Riptide Flight, announces that the lifebuster bomb has been dropped and orders all nearby ships to pull out. She braces herself and hopes that the Defiants can rebuild after Alta Base is destroyed. Suddenly, she notices Spensa diving towards the bomb instead of trying to escape.
Spensa attaches the bomb to her ship via light-lance and flies away at full speed, far faster than any normal DDF ship, as the bomb's timer counts down, hoping to get it out of the death zone before time runs out. M-Bot notes that even though they can get it out of range in time, they themselves will get caught in the blast. Spensa is calm and feels as though she is part of the ship's processors. As the countdown reaches its final seconds, M-Bot lists off his functions. Just before the bomb explodes, M-Bot's systems report the presence of a "biological component" and that the cytonic hyperdrive is now functional. He tells Spensa to engage that system, and she utilizes her cytonic abilities, sending the two away from the explosion.
Spensa feels herself entering a place of nothingness, and sees a field of stars or eyes that suddenly focus on her. She feels as though they not only see her, but know her as well. Spensa jolts out of the place and back into M-Bot's cockpit, stressed. The diagnostics report that the cytonic hyperdrive is now offline, and M-Bot tells her that they are 100 kilometers away from the blast site, despite almost no time passing, commenting that they must have used FTL travel. They contact Alta Base, to cheering. Suddenly, Spensa sees a hole in the debris field, leading to the stars. Ironsides contacts her after she puts her helmet on, telling her to come back and saying that she'll pardon Chaser and needs to talk to her about the defect. Spensa tells her that she won't be coming back to the base yet, and flies upwards into the hole.
Spensa thinks to herself that choosing to fly through the hole is an unwise decision, but she feels an intense need to see what is up there. As they continue going upwards, she realizes that the debris fields are really a series of organized platforms. They eventually see a space station and some boxy Krell ships, and Spensa realizes that she can hear their communication, sent through the nowhere-place she can sense, and wonders if they know about the dangers of using it. M-Bot tells her that they are also using normal communications that he can decipher. Suddenly, Spensa is hit by something, and realizes that the Krell are trying to overwrite her vision. M-Bot engages his stealth and jamming system, and the sensation goes away. She tells M-Bot about the defect that she has, and that she thinks her father turned traitor on his flight because the Krell made him think that they were dead and that he was shooting at Krell ships. They observe the Krell ships, which have brighter colors, and M-Bot translates the words on their sides as "Penitentiary maintainance and containment of Earthlings". Spensa tells M-Bot to lower the systems he was using to block cytonics, and she listens in on Krell chatter. One of the aliens expresses fear that Spensa is going to eat them, and outright panics and flees after she makes a face at it. M-Bot hacks their systems and downloads some data before getting caught. Some Krell interceptors come out from the space station, and they decide to leave. Strangely, the interceptors do not fire at them, and stop following after they pass through a few layers of debris. Spensa asks M-Bot what he got from the Krell computer, and he tells her that while he didn't retrieve too much data, what he did get is rather helpful.
Spensa shares the information M-Bot discovered about the Krell. It is revealed that, after humanity failed to conquer the galaxy, the other intelligent races deemed it too dangerous for mankind to possess FTL travel technology. The crew of the Defiant had remained neutral during the war and, after a mutiny, they crash-landed on Detritus. Since then, the race humanity knows as the Krell have worked as guards to maintain Detritus as a sort of prison/preservation for humanity. Only recently, there has been some internal disputes among the Krell over how much development they are to tolerate from mankind. The Epilogue ends with Spensa pondering the fact that the Krell know to target anyone who can use Cytonics and courageously choosing to 'Be Defiant'.
Skyward · Starsight · Skyward 3 · Skyward 4 · Defending Elysium
|Characters||Spensa · M-Bot · Doomslug · Jorgen · Cobb · Kimmalyn · FM · Rig · Hurl · Nedd · Arturo · Ironsides · Morriumur · Vapor · Hesho · Brade · Cuna · Winzik· Jason Write|
|Groups||Varvax · Figment · Kitsen · Dione · Delvers · Skyward Flight · Defiant League · Defiant Defense Force · Superiority · KRELL|
|Places||Detritus · Igneous Cavern · Alta Base · Flight School · Starsight · Platform Prime · Nowhere · Earth|
|Other||Cytonics · Lifebuster · Human Wars · Battle of Alta · Battle of Alta Second · Phone Company · Skyward Universe|