You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.
The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendants of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.
But there's a catch.
They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth's population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.
Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.
Because there's a loophole.
If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother's cancer.
There is only one problem.
Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she's a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she's come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.
This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her school, the one she's been crushing on, and who doesn't seem to know she exists.
Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.
You Qualify or you die.
"Like a lot of dedicated book-lovers, I have a fairly long list of books I have read and re-read. Some I would re-read annually (like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), some I would re-read whenever the mood struck. I can even recall a few that I re-read immediately after finishing them the first time. But "Qualify" (and it's [sic] only current sequel "Compete" while we eagerly await the release of the next book in the series, "Win") took me into a whole new realm of obsession. I raced through Qualify, dove into Compete, and then immediately jumped back and re-read them both again. And then again. And then *again*. I re-read both books 7 times before I could finally force myself to pick up a new book. And I'm still doing it."– Amazon Review
"The best part of the story is family. The main character's family of four Qualify, then friendships develop within the isolated training camp extending the family. The "savior" status of Gwen doesn't bother me as she has the chops to carry it off — she studied all her life, she pays — painfully (ow, ow running blisters) — for the mistake of thinking brain was far more important then body, her music is a natural gift from her mother, and her thinking outside the box from her father. I know the Atlantians believe the music gift is the more important of the two, but I think as the series progresses we are going to see just how wrong they are. Gwen is the type to burn the box in order to create an updraft to fly on."– Amazon Review
"Qualify follows the journey of a 16 year old girl named Gwen Lark who has been selected to compete for qualification. We see the story from her POV. Her road is not an easy one. Being unathletic, clumsy and a surrounded by school bullies. Gwen is the sort of character we will always root for; she is not popular, not outwardly special, and asks too many questions in class. Yet we want her to win. And of course, we want her to get the guy! The author, Vera Nazarian, does a great job of setting the scene for the reader to help us understand what is happening in the world and then submerses you right into the middle of the action."– Amazon Review
"The writing is superb, glistening with detailed descriptions and punctuated by sincere feelings for each character. Best of all, the characters are believable all the way down to the humorous thoughts, and spoken words. The author proves that Sci-Fi does not have the be filled with stiff characters that lack of humanity."– Amazon Review
Today is a day like any other day. Only it's not.
Today the Qualification tests begin—at all designated schools, and public sites in remote places where they don't have schools, all across the country and around the world—and everyone in my family is trying to pretend things are as usual.
I am at the messy kitchen counter chewing the breakfast scrambled eggs while the smart wall TV is blaring in the living room. Mom has her back turned and she is leaning over the stove making another skillet, which apparently is burning. I watch Mom's fragile stooped back, the collar of the flannel pajama top, and the yellow cotton scarf covering her head, bald from the most recent round of chemo. The air is thick with garlic and scalded toast and things unspoken. No one else is up yet.
"Need some help burning the house down, Mom?" I say, in-between tasteless bites. Normally I love cheesy garlic eggs, but not today. Today, nothing has a taste. Especially not my forced humor.
"Thanks," she says, without turning around. "But no, I think I am managing just fine with the arson."
"M-m-m-m," I say. The skillet makes another grand hiss.
Voices of various morning news show talking heads sound from the living room TV smart wall. "Qualify or die" is repeated often. I imagine there's a running marquee with that phrase, interspersed with stock tickers and national weather and the continuing coverage of the mystery of a missing plane that disappeared thirty-three years ago, while the footage of the asteroid and then the Atlantis ships hanging in the skies like balloons among the clouds is running on repeat in a small lower window of the screen. Unfortunately that's the spot of the smart wall surface with the greatest number of bad pixels. Our old wall needs an upgrade, but it's not going to happen now that the world is about to end.
They've been showing the same footage for the last three months. The asteroid is dramatic, a blazing white monster against black space. It's hurtling at us head-on. And then it's always followed by the video clip of the same famous spaceship disk, silvery metallic monolith, miles above the New York skyline. Most of Manhattan ground level is two feet underwater these days, but the skyscrapers remain active centers of business and make for a dramatic backdrop amid the street canals congested with taxi speedboat traffic. There are hundreds of other spaceships of course, all around the country and the world, but they only show the definitive New York one, with the Empire State Building in the frame. The ones here in Vermont, over Burlington, Montpelier, and St. Albans, don't warrant national coverage.
George comes into the kitchen. His dark brown hair is sticking up more than usual, which means he's been tossing and turning all night, and probably had very little sleep, much like me. He looks bleary-eyed too, and his good-looking angular face is stuck in a frown. He's wearing black jeans and a grey hoodie.
"Hey," I mumble at my seventeen-year-old older brother, and he only gives me the hard thoughtful look. How well I know it, since it's the same look that I've seen in the mirror this morning as I tried to comb the snags out of my own brown hair, long, wavy and unruly, and stared into my hard blue eyes. Grumpy and thoughtful runs in our family. Or at least with some of us. George and I are alike that way, prone to serious, prone to scary quicksilver moods interspersed with sarcasm. And now that Mom's really sick, we stopped laughing altogether.
Good thing our two younger siblings don't particularly share this hang-up. Twelve-year-old Grace has always been a giggle machine and chatterbox—though lately she gets weird anxiety attacks at night and has trouble falling asleep, then can't wake up on time in the morning, and is always late. Dad thinks it's because she is right on the border of the cutoff age for the Qualification, and it can go either way for her today. So she's been quietly freaking out.
As for Gordon, fourteen and sure of himself, he just hums whatever's playing in his earbuds, and smirks a lot, also quietly, even when he fiddles with his art and woodcrafts stuff. Gordie is convinced he will not Qualify, but he claims he does not care—which is of course crazy, but if it makes it easier for him to deal, then what can be said?
"Have some eggs, George," Mom says. "Grab a plate."
"I'm not hungry." My brother pours himself a glass of cheap apple juice.
"Yes, you are. You'll need it. You can't run all day on that sugary swill. And it's going to be a very long day." Mom turns around and grimaces, looking at the transparent yellowish baby-food liquid that George loves so much. Mom's skin has an unhealthy grey tint, and at the same time her face is reddened by the heat of the kitchen stove. Both her hands are shaking slightly with the usual tremors. But there is determined focus in her watery blue eyes. I stare at her and see the effort she is making. Margot Lark, my mother, is the strongest person I know.
"You shouldn't be doing this. You shouldn't be cooking." George frowns and gulps down half a glass of juice at once. I watch his Adam's apple move with each swallow, in tandem with the muscles of his lean neck.
"I am not cooking. You call this cooking?" Mom smiles, throwing me a wink, in an attempt to get me to make my usual sarcastic commentary that indicates I still have a pulse.
"It's pretty good, actually," I say, making a show of forking a large piece and chewing and swallowing with enjoyment, even though I am tasting nothing and my insides are filled with rocks. "Where's everyone else?"
"I heard Gee Three flush the toilet." George reluctantly takes a plate and Mom dumps half a skillet of cheesy yellow eggs onto it.
In case it's unclear, we're the Four Gees, in order of birth: George, Gwenevere, Gordon, Grace. I still don't get it why our parents decided to use names starting with the letter "G" for naming all their kids. Mom says she wanted a neat musical pattern to it, and for us to sound "elegant." Mom is a classical opera singer—or was, before she got sick—so "elegant" is important to her. Dad says it was an old tradition on his mother's Italian side of the family to use the same initial letter. Honestly, whatever. But everyone in school now calls us the Four Gees, and we're stuck with it.
"Gracie still in bed?" Mom continues, without glancing at George.
"You bet. Want me to go drag her out?"
Mom shakes her head, wipes a dot of skillet splatter off her nose with the back of her hand, still holding a greasy spatula. "No, let her sleep a bit longer. Your father will get her when he comes down. Give them another fifteen minutes. And now I want you to eat."
George shrugs. "Whatever. She'll make everyone late again."
"No. You'll be fine."
I am still chewing the eggs, swallowing them dutifully like lumps of unknown stuff, and now I feel a familiar pang of fear twist my guts.
We'll be fine. Somehow hearing this makes it worse, brings it all home.
Today's the day. The day we've been prepping ourselves for, emotionally, psychologically, for weeks and months. And when I say "we," that's pretty much everyone on this planet. Teens and their parents. And all the people who care about them. And really, everyone else too, since they get to watch. They get to find out—even though they themselves are out of the picture, out of the running—they get to witness us make it or fail.
Today we Qualify for rescue, for Atlantis.
Or we don't—which means we'll die together with all the rest of the world when the asteroid hits Earth, in about nineteen months from now. . . .
There's no way to stop it.
But at least for some of us, there is Atlantis.
Turns out, Atlantis is not a myth. It's ancient history. There really was a great continent by that name in ancient times, somewhere in the middle of what we now call the Atlantic Ocean, spanning the infamous Bermuda Triangle, the Bahamas, and beyond, and it was home to a very advanced high-tech civilization that stretched around the globe. Supposedly, they had computers, the internet, super-medicine, weapons of mass destruction, probably gaming consoles, and all kinds of other incredible or obnoxious stuff even more sophisticated than our own modern equivalents.
And then something happened. Maybe they did it to themselves—basically ruined the planet, kind of like what we're doing now with the environment and other species, the out-of-control pollution, carbon dioxide imbalance and resulting cascade of climate change. Or maybe it was Mother Nature, at least in part.
Because at some point more than twelve thousand years ago, something huge and terrible took place—a mega-cataclysm on such a scale that it caused a whole continent to disappear without a trace, in earthquakes and floods and who knows what—and wiped the high-level civilization off the face of the planet. To escape this global disaster—we are told—the people of Atlantis used their advanced technology to leave Earth and flee to the stars. They eventually established a human colony on a habitable planet.
They called this colony planet "Atlantis," or whatever's the equivalent in their language, in memory of their own ancient roots on Earth, to honor their native civilization and the terrestrial continent of their birth that started it all.
And now, after all these thousands of years, they're back. They returned to Earth, their ancient home world, and they are here to help. That is, the distant descendants of the original Atlantean colonists are here to help. They claim to be one hundred percent human and supposedly not all that different from ourselves—if you don't count the thousands of generations of separate evolution and branching off to live in an alien environment. Yeah, right.
Anyway, the Atlanteans share our DNA and they're our cousins. And, just like cousins, it makes them either weird or welcome guests.
Right now, they are desperately welcome and desperately needed. The asteroid brought them here—or, like some paranoid people in the media say, maybe "they brought the asteroid."
Whichever it is, at this point, Atlantis is all we've got.
When the news of the lethal asteroid first broke, months ago, almost simultaneously the Atlantean spaceships appeared in the skies all over the world. It's as if they've been watching us, and waiting to make first contact. The asteroid just gave them the excuse.
Okay, at first it was a huge global mess. World governments going into panic mode and military overdrive, people on the streets screaming about alien invasions, religious fundamentalists having a field day, scientists having aneurisms, stock markets crashing worldwide, to the tune of billions.
But once the Atlantean shuttles landed, and we saw them to be human and not little green men or big green lizards, it was okay. They met with representatives of governments, the United Nations, and were received with caution and eventually with open arms. "We are you," they told us in various languages of Earth. How they knew our languages is unclear, but it's probably some kind of advanced tech, or they've been listening in on us for far longer than we know. They explained who they were—which is kind of insane if you think about it, all that mythic stuff that Plato wrote about is mostly true—and demonstrated some of their amazing technology.
Only it wasn't all that amazing when it came to the asteroid.
Yes, they tried moving it and changing the path of its trajectory, and all kinds of other advanced science stuff, in conjunction with global space agencies and the three International Space Stations we currently have—the largest one in Earth orbit, a second small one on the surface of the Moon, and the barely functional newest one on Mars. They even landed on the asteroid's surface and drilled and took samples. But nothing worked, at least not enough to make a difference. The asteroid is going to hit Earth and it is going to cause nuclear winter at best. And at worst—well, let's just say there may not be much of this planet left after the impact. . . .
However, not all is lost. Because the Atlanteans are going to save as many of us as possible and take us back with them—back to the colony planet Atlantis, a fertile blue-green world that's supposed to be beautiful beyond belief, with a golden-white sun and not one but three moons.
To that effect, they have brought enough spaceships to carry millions of people—ten million, to be precise. It sounds great but means they can only rescue a very small portion of the general Earth population of eight point five billion—no more than can fill their present fleet of monolith silver ships, since there is no time for multiple trips between Earth and Atlantis before the asteroid strikes.
There is only one condition for rescue. Those lucky few that get to board the Atlantis ships have to be young people between the ages of eleven and twenty—teenagers.
Capable, talented, special teenagers.
The best of the best on Earth.
And the only way to determine who these teens will be is to make them pass Qualification. . . .
Qualify or die.