Read an Excerpt From Elaine U. Cho’s Ocean’s Godori

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Elaine U. Cho’s science fiction debut Ocean’s Godori—out from Hillman Grad Books on April 23rd.

Ocean Yoon has never felt very Korean, even if she is descended from a long line of haenyeo, Jeju Island’s beloved female divers. She doesn’t like soju, constantly misses cultural references, and despite her love of the game, people still say that she doesn’t play Hwatu like a Korean. Ocean’s also persona non grata at the Alliance, Korea’s solar system–dominating space agency, since a mission went awry and she earned a reputation for being a little too quick with her gun.

When her best friend, Teo, second son of the Anand Tech empire, is framed for murdering his family, Ocean and her misfit crewmates are pushed to the forefront of a high-stakes ideological conflict. But dodging bullets and winning space chases may be the easiest part of what comes next.

Ocean’s fussing with the tie on her jeogori when her nimbus rings. She checks the display and answers.

“Don’t worry, Dae. I’m on my way.”

On her way meaning that she’s almost ready to leave, of course. She adjusts her jeogori for the fifth time.

“Yeah, about that,” her captain’s voice blares too loudly. “I need you to do something first.” Ocean waits, listening to the bursts of laughter on the other end. “Can you move the Ohneul? I’d do it, but I’m already at Coex. They’re holding a separate event for higher-ups.”

One where the alcohol’s flowing, judging by Dae’s voice. “Where do you need me to move it?” Ocean asks.

“Alliance’s Seoul dock. It’ll be more convenient for when we leave tomorrow.” Dae’s voice raises in pitch. “Dangyeol, Lieutenant Seo! Yes, yes, I’m speaking with my pilot now.” When Dae’s responding to a superior, she has a particular laugh calibrated to warmly flatter. She launches into it now, and Ocean rechecks her jeogori tie. Maybe she should watch the instructional video again. Dae’s tone drops. “I think it might be dicey tonight, with all the Alliance ships in the parking hangar because of the gala.”

“If you’re worried about the ship, I wouldn’t mind staying with it—”

“You need to make an appearance at the party,” Dae says. “It reflects badly on me for you to always skip out.”

As if Ocean needs another reminder of what’s waiting for her at the gala, some inevitable trotting out in front of Dae’s superiors as a reminder that she’s been the one keeping Ocean in line all these years. The problem with begging off every social event of the year is that Ocean has to make an appearance to one at least, and Dae chose the biggest. Everyone’s flown back for it. The only upside is that there are so many people, she might not even see Adama and the rest of his crew.

“I’ll be there,” Ocean says.

“If you show up after 1900, I’m requiring you to attend the next Alliance event too.”

“You want me to be there by 1900? That’s impossible!”

“You better book it then, don’t you think?” Dae hangs up abruptly.

Ocean leaves her room, and in the elevator she jabs the P2 button more energetically than she needs to. After presenting her palm for a scan and inputting the Ohneul’s ship ID, an illuminated map offers directions to where it’s parked. When the doors slide open, lighted blue arrows on the ground point the way. Her heels click on the concrete, echoing in the massive hangar. As she follows the arrows, she hears low voices. She can’t place exactly where they’re coming from—the noises are ricocheting off the ceiling and the gargantuan ships lined up in rows—until she gets to the Ohneul and finds two huddled figures nearby. One of them, a large Asian man with a buzzed head, crouches on the ground keeping watch while the other, a Black woman with braids gathered into a high bun, pulls back her fist, ready to punch open the side door. She’s wearing large gloves that are glowing bright green. Power gloves, if Ocean had to guess. All three of them freeze.

“Well, this is awkward,” Ocean says.

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Ocean's Godori
Ocean's Godori

Ocean’s Godori

Elaine U. Cho

The woman slowly lowers her fists, and the man says completely unconvincingly, “Oh no. This isn’t our ship?”

The woman puts her hand up to her ear. “Lupus, you were supposed to be on watch!” she hisses, and then after a pause, she snaps into her comm, “What do you mean it was your favorite scene?”

“I told you not to count on Lupus while they had on Midnight in Europa,” the man says, straightening. “Every scene is their favorite scene.”

Ocean thinks over her options. Her gun is somewhere in a closet about eight floors up. She hates having it with her even if it is regulation; the weight of it on her hip is all wrong. She sighs. It looks like Dae did have something to worry about after all. The raiders’ idea was not a bad one—the garage is packed tonight, and with the party going until the morning hours, they’d only need to take out the cameras to have free rein.

“Were you planning on punching your way into every ship?” Ocean asks.

“The configurations for this one weren’t quite what we were expecting,” the man explains.


“Cass,” the man replies mildly.

“Ocean.” Ocean points to herself and then to the Ohneul. “And this is a 180-Han. An older model. Nothing fancy and usually easy to break into. But we have a mechanic who upgraded its security settings.” Maggie will be pleased to hear she kept two raiders out. Ocean checks the time on her comm. If she’s going to make Dae’s ludicrous deadline, she has to leave now. “If you’re looking for Han-series ships, there are three in the next row,” Ocean says. “The Narae ships have similar entry doors too. They have that distinctive scalloped fletching on their tails.”

“Damn, that’s cold.” Cass narrows her eyes. “I thought you Alliance kids were at least loyal to one another.”

“I’m kind of on a tight schedule,” Ocean says, ignoring how that comment stings.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cass sneers at Ocean, taking in the silk jeogori, the black Sav-Faire dress underneath that’s seen better days, and the heels that are too high to be of any use in this situation. “Are we keeping you from your party?”

“I’m supposed to move the ship for my boss,” Ocean says. “I have to get it to the Alliance Seoul dock and be back at Coex by 1900.”

Aries checks his comm while Cass scoffs, “There’s no way.” “It’s becoming less likely by the minute,” Ocean agrees.

Aries remarks, “You don’t seem too concerned to catch us breaking into your ship.”

“Trying to break in. You don’t seem too bad on the raider scale,” Ocean says. They’re calm for one thing; if they were skittish, she’d have a problem. “You must be pretty low grade if you’re rifling through Alliance ships for loot.”

“Low grade?” Cass sputters. “I’ll have you know—”

“So you are raiders?” Ocean asks. From Ocean’s experience, the more defensive a raider is, the more they feel they have to prove. Ocean has no gun and no way in hell of beating someone in a fist fight, especially not someone wearing power gloves. “It doesn’t matter to me either way, but I’d rather avoid the delay.”

Aries eyes her without any of his partner’s judgment. After his once-over, he nods. He steps onto the walkway, tugging Cass along by the elbow, and gestures for Ocean to go ahead. “We’d rather avoid that too.”

“Seriously?” Cass asks. “You can’t trust Alliance trash, Aries.”

Ocean slips past them, but she waits until they’re far enough away before entering the passcode and pressing her palm to the panel.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Aries says breezily as the hatch door opens with a metal creak. “But I do know he’s going to be disappointed if you attract any unnecessary attention. You promised we’d keep a low profile.” He touches his ear. “Lupus, will you actually keep an eye out this time?”

“Thanks,” Ocean says to them as she pulls the door closed.

“You’re never going to make it!” Cass yells at her as the door seals.

All the lights blink on in the hallway, except the one at the far end that always flickers a few times with a buzzy zap before giving up. Ocean cocks an ear; she half expected Gremio to be here, asleep in his room by the infirmary, but the ship has an unmistakably empty feeling. Good. She can very clearly picture a disgruntled Gremio bursting out of the ship to knock his cane on the heads of the hapless raiders. He would also definitely not approve of the ride she’s about to take the ship on.

Ocean checks the time again as she strides to the cockpit. Aish. She really might not make it. She slides into her pilot seat and flicks switches with one hand while undoing the straps of her heels with the other. She kicks them off and settles her feet against the pedals.

Immediately, all the tension eases out of her body. Her right hand takes the wheel, and her left one rests on the shift. This feeling may have been the real reason she agreed to Dae’s order.

The metro leaves every five minutes from the Seoul dock. It takes about twelve minutes to get to Coex from there, including all the stops. So that gives her about six minutes to move the Ohneul and find parking. Just for kicks, Ocean connects her nimbus to the console and opens up Gilla maps to check what it thinks. Seventeen minutes. Marv. She shifts right and down on the lever, and the satisfying weight of the mechanics confirms her existence. The ship lifts into the air, and from the left display, she sees the two raiders heading over to the next row where she pointed out the Han ships. The closest one is the Samjogo, piloted by Kim Seunghoon, who once roughed up Von outside A-Mart.

“Good luck,” she says, although she’s not sure whether she’s speaking to Cass or herself.

Ocean jabs in the code to open the garage’s entryway, and she follows the slow slope of the hangar floor out. Then she’s streaming through the Seoul air. The sun’s just setting now, and she admires the purple hue of the sky behind the city lights.

Another memory comes to mind, of hands on the wheel, of wind streaming in through an open window. She allows herself a brief moment, then she pushes the clutch, her right foot ready to supply gas to the thrusters, her left hand on the gear lever, all moving in smooth synchronization. The Ohneul zooms forward.

“Five minutes,” she says to herself as she angles around the Lotte World Tower and over the World Peace Gate. She knows Seoul better by air than by foot and is making good time; the air’s free of traffic tonight, probably because she’s the only one being sent on an errand by her commanding officer. At least that’s what she thinks until she spots blinking lights out of the corner of her eye. Her console beeps, and she squints at it before reluctantly opening the transmission. If it’s an Alliance officer, word will get back to Dae that she ignored it.

“Dae swore you started from the Alliance dorms.”

The transmission’s coming from the Flying Cloud, which means the pilot is Lim Yeri.

“I did,” Ocean says.

“Liar. No way you got here that fast. Still, keeps things interesting, yeah?”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t they tell you? There’s one parking spot left at the Seoul docks. Our captains made a wager to see which one of us would get to it first.”

Ocean remembers Dae’s drunken glee. “Marv,” she mutters. “We’re subject to the whims of our seonbae, I guess.”

“You can take the spot.” Ocean couldn’t be less interested in Dae’s latest pissing match.

“Oh, come on.” Lim laughs. “I was kinda interested in seeing what the famous Crane had to offer, but I guess that was all talk?” Despite herself, Ocean stiffens. She reflexively looks down at the tattoo on her right hand. The profile of a crane in flight stretches its beak up to her index knuckle, its wings spreading up the back of her hand, legs pointing toward her wrist.

The Flying Cloud’s drifted close enough for Ocean to see the cloud pattern etched on its hull. This one’s a Byeol-10X, an actual racer. It’s last year’s model, the X-wing an homage to space fighters of old, the layered divots in its shield an aerodynamic dream. Ocean flexes her fingers against her wheel. Truthfully, she doesn’t want to have to go to another party.

“Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance,” she says as she punches her feet down.

The display flashes blue then green. The Ohneul spirals out, jetting forward amid a cloud of profanity from Lim. A rush of pure pleasure floods Ocean, and she can’t remember the last time she felt this focused, this awake. Lim catches up easily. Byeol-10X models are built for speed, and the Ohneul is barely keeping it together as it is. If their route was a straightaway with nothing but sky, Ocean wouldn’t have a prayer. But Lim doesn’t dare go high enough to gain that advantage because of how close the Alliance dock is, and Ocean knows Seoul like the back of her right hand. Lim swerves in front of Ocean, cutting off her path. Ocean veers right, then left, but Lim blocks her each time.

“You think you can pass me in that clunker?” Lim yells.

Ocean doesn’t need to. Lim’s flown the Flying Cloud far enough to the left now that the Ohneul can’t edge between it and the fast-approaching Shinjeong Tower with its distinctive crescent moon top. Ocean fakes right, and when Lim moves to cut her off again, Ocean hits the brakes. She loves feeling the lurch in her body as the ship reacts. She’s piloted the Ohneul for five years, and even if she’s never raced it, she still knows each clank, every fluctuation, and the exact resistance of its wheel. At the perfect moment, she spins the wheel in the opposite direction, fighting its inertia, and the Ohneul’s back slides out. Ocean turns the ship sideways and up so that it cradles in the curve of Shinjeong’s crescent before completing its somersault.

Ocean predicts the Flying Cloud’s brake lights flashing even before Lim stops short. She knows there’s that new apartment development just ahead. Ocean’s already calibrated her landing, so once she flips in front of the Flying Cloud, she’s ready to corner sharply around the stalled ship, cutting Lim off. As if on cue, the panel pings at Ocean to complain, telling her this ship is not equipped to travel at these speeds. She smiles as she curves around a block of hotels. At this point, she’s not even worried about Lim; she’s just following the best line. The gates to the Seoul dock are in front of her, and she’s home free.

“Injeong halggeh.” Lim laughs over the transmission. “I’m not even mad. What the hell are you doing piloting a Class 4?”

Just like that, the thrill running through Ocean’s veins dries up. “You can take the parking spot,” she says.

“Wait, what? Really?”

Ocean turns off the transmission and drops her head back on the seat, putting the Ohneul on coast. The console beeps and Ocean slaps the button to respond. “I’m serious, just take—”

“Ocean-ah.” Damn. It isn’t Lim. Too late, Ocean realizes that the alert was a different tone than the internal calls between ships.

She slumps forward over the wheel. “Why didn’t you call? You said you would call last night when you got to Seoul. You’re too busy with your friend to call your umma?”

Her mother’s insistence on calling all her steadies “friends” is, at least, consistent. She’ll probably be happy to hear they’re not friends anymore.

“I’m sorry, Umma. I forgot.”

Her umma has an unerring instinct to call at the absolute worst times. Then again, it’s not like Ocean’s taken the opportunity to create her own battlegrounds. Ocean pulls the ship up higher so she can idly guide the Ohneul through the clouds with one hand on the wheel.

Her umma exhales heavily. “Babeun meogeoseo?”

“Not yet, Umma.” A wave of guilt always accompanies this response, but she can’t lie. Her mom’s able to sniff out a lie quicker than a priest in a confessional box. “I’m on my way to the Alliance gala. They’ll have food there.”

“Alliance gala?”

“You know, Umma. The party they throw every year.”

“Euh, the gala. Where they gave Hajoon that award?”

“Yes. That one.” It was years before Ocean’s time at the Alliance,  but the memory is painfully bright. She remembers the crisp rustle of her mother’s brand-new hanbok. Even more palpable is the pride her parents wore that night, the tears glistening in her mother’s eyes as her older brother waved to them from the stage.

The silence gapes so widely that if Ocean sighs, her mother will hear it, no matter how much she stifles the reaction. “I was going to call, Umma. I’m sorry I didn’t. But I’m flying now, and I need to park the ship.”

Ocean holds her breath.

“How long are you going to live like this?” The weariness in her mother’s voice sucks all the air out of the cockpit.

“I should go. I’ll call you later, Umma.”

Ocean hangs up. Her nimbus display clocks the call in at barely over a minute. The sun has fully set now, but Seoul is still spread out in vivid color below. Ocean rests her hand on the shift. She still has a party to get to.

Excerpted from Ocean’s Godori, copyright © 2024 by Elaine U. Cho.

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