FIFTEEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO, the knowledge bringers—an amphibious, non-humanoid species known as the Huahuqui—came after a great global flood, gifting humans with math, science, and civility.
We killed them all.
Seventy years ago, we found one of their corpses preserved in ice and eventually created a clone named K’in. Our governments fought over the creature and we killed it, too. Now, a sinkhole in Siberia has opened, revealing new secrets.
FREYA NILSSON spent the last five years trying to forget her role in the Huahuqui cloning program. She hid her son, KJ, from the regimes and agencies she believed would exploit him for the powers he acquired through his father’s bond with K’in.
An innocent trip to help KJ understand his abilities results in the conspiracy she fought to bury exploding back to life. Chased by new foes and hounded to put the world first, all Freya can think of is protecting KJ—at all costs.
Children of the Fifth Sun: Echelon is the sequel to Gareth Worthington’s multi-award-winning debut novel Children of the Fifth Sun.
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Location: Connecticut, USA, six weeks earlier
Freya leaped from her bed and sprinted to her son, stomping on a Lego piece along the way. She careened into the room, but came to an abrupt halt and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Kelly Junior in the dark, holding his portable nightlight.
"What happened, Mr. Man? Are you all right?" Freya asked, rubbing her sore foot. "Bad dream, again?"
KJ nodded. "Mhmm."
"Same one?" she asked, although she didn't need to hear the answer. Of course it was the same one. It was always the same. A hole. A deep, black hole, with bright blue eyes staring out and voices from within calling to him. That was the dream. It had been since he was three. And she knew in her heart there was a link with Siberia — with a sinkhole that had opened up two years earlier. KJ was obsessed with it.
"Yeah, I hate this dream, Mommy." KJ sniffed and ran his forearm across his face. "I wish I could make it go away."
She took a seat on the bed next to him. "Me too, sweetie. Me, too."
"Can I have some chocolate milk? To help me sleep." KJ looked up at Freya, his big blue eyes shining like sapphires in the dark.
"Help you sleep, huh?" Freya raised an eyebrow.
KJ just gave the same grin that his father used to give.
"C'mon then. But, then straight back to bed." She picked up KJ who clamped himself around her body and rested his head on her shoulder.
Freya skipped down the stairs and into the kitchen. Once KJ was placed on the counter, Freya busied herself about making his warm chocolate milk, keeping one eye on her son in case he fell.
Clasping his now full Iron Man cup, KJ climbed down off the side and meandered into the living room. Freya followed him in, wearing only a T-shirt, panties, and thick wool socks. She may be a mom, but for Freya, pajamas were a step too far.
"Do you think Minya and Nikolaj are awake?" KJ asked, snuggling into Freya on the couch.
She looked at the clock. Three in the morning. "Yeah, it's about 11:00 a.m. for them." She pulled her ponytail tight and squinted at him. "Why?"
"Maybe they'd like to Skype?" he asked, hopefully.
"I guess we could ... wait, are you doing that thing you do?"
KJ smiled. "What thing?"
"You're too clever for your own good, you know that?"
"I know," he said.
"Well, maybe it would be good to say hi."
Freya's friendship with Minya had been a surprise to them both. Over the year that followed the battle with the Shan Chu in Teotihuacan, they'd had to interact numerous times to assist the Secretary of State, Lucy Taylor, in cleaning up things. An initial dislike for each other had grown into respect. And as Freya's belly grew with KJ, Minya had thawed considerably. But it was when KJ was born the friendship solidified. Minya was another mother who understood everything that had happened. With KJ's special abilities increasing every day, she had been the only one with whom Freya could talk. In the end, Minya was the only one who knew everything.
The video call hummed its dialing tone.
Almost two minutes passed.
"I don't think they're in, Mr. Man," Freya said, leaning for the remote to hang up.
"Wait, just one more minute," he pleaded.
Freya sat back and waited.
Sure enough, the call connected. Minya's high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes filled the TV screen.
"Freya. A nice surprise. It's what, three in morning there? Kelly Junior, you wake up your mother again?" Minya had always refused to call him KJ. "She needs her rest, young man."
"Bad dreams again," replied Freya for her son.
KJ nodded, slurping on his chocolate milk.
"You know my thought on this, my friend," Minya said.
Freya sighed. "I know."
"What do you have to lose? You fly here. We check out the site, Kelly Junior feels better. You go home."
"And if that's not what happens?"
"You will never know what your son needs unless you try. Kelly Junior has too much of his father in him. If you don't take him now, one day he will go alone."
KJ sat listening, wide eyed, hiding behind his cup.
Freya's chest tightened. "You're right about that."
Minya shook her head. "Freya. Your son is tiny version of that man. You know this. I know this. Everyone knows this."
Freya glanced at KJ. The wavy brown locks that fell about his face. His piercing blue eyes. That half-baked smirk. He was a miniature version of Kelly Graham. Each day that passed, more of his father came to the surface. He was far too confident for his own good.
"He's only five," Freya began.
"Freya, my friend. You and I both know that is not true. He may have the body of a five-year old, but his brain ... that is something different entirely."
Freya squeezed her son. "It's too dangerous. I can't risk it. Can't risk KJ."
"Where are we going?" A tall boy with blond hair and chocolate- colored eyes squished himself into the camera shot.
KJ sat upright. "Privyet!"
"Privyet, KJ," replied Nikolaj. He was quite a bit older than KJ, but he was always kind to her son.
"Where are we going?" repeated Nikolaj.
"We're coming to you, Nikolaj," KJ said, his voice full of excitement.
"No we're not," Freya said, firmly.
The boy smiled. "Oh, good. I look forward to see us."
"You," corrected Minya. "I look forward to see you."
"Da, sorry, you," Nikolaj said.
Freya scowled. "Hey, has everyone gone deaf? I just said it's not happening."
"Freya —" Minya began.
"Look, I gotta go, Minya. KJ should be in bed. I'll call you soon okay?"
Freya cut off the call, and the TV screen was once again black.
"But mom —"
"But nothing, Mr. Man. I said we're not going and that's final. Go brush your teeth and get into bed, I'll come tuck you in in a minute."
KJ slid off the couch his head hung low, then dropped the empty cup in the kitchen sink. As he trudged up the stairs, he called to Socks — their cat — who came bounding from the hallway and duly followed him to his room. Besides her white paws, Socks was an all-black, sleek and decidedly bad-tempered, cat who scratched anyone who came too close. Anyone, that was, except KJ. For KJ, the razor-clawed little monster was a playful kitten. Most of the neighbors found it cute. Freya knew different. All the more reason not to go.
Location: Yamal Peninsula, Siberia
Svetlana was nowhere to be found. The ice-laden wind whipped about the leathery face of her mother, Anuska, rendering her blind. Defying the storm, she pulled the thick reindeer-skin hood over her raven-haired head and trudged onward through the snow, away from the tents, in the only direction her daughter could have gone. With unsteady steps, she called into the blizzard but her voice carried no more than a few feet.
Pushing farther on, Anuska searched with outstretched hands, feeling her way forward. The snow concealed jagged rocks that cut into the leather of her reindeer-skin boots, letting frigid water seep in and freeze her toes. Still, she pressed on. She was Nenets; used to the perils of living in the open — and children often became lost. Though, this was different. Svetlana had not been herself. Not been awake. She'd wandered off several times since they set up camp near the sinkhole. Normally a girl who always completed her chores, tending to the reindeer, Svetlana had become obsessed with visiting the deep crater and peering over the edge for hours at a time.
Anuska could only hope her daughter had not tried to visit it on a night like this.
Before long, she stood at the edge of the sinkhole. More than one-hundred feet wide, it was an almost perfect puncture in the Earth's crust. Here the wind seemed to swirl around the black hole, but never over it. Anuska could make out the twenty-foot thick rim of gray rock that encircled the hole, and the pitch black center that absorbed all light, even during the day. She edged her foot forward, sending crumbling rock into the void.
"Svetlana!" she called again.
Anuska held her breath, squeezed her eyes shut and listened — hoping against hope.
The Nenets mother faltered at the edge. "Svetlana?"
The wind howled. But on its very edge, the voice came again. "Mama ..."
Anuska scrambled to the ground and crawled backward into the hole, searching for a foothold. Through snow-soaked boots, her toes found an outcropping. She tested it for stability. It didn't move. Anuska allowed her weight to rest on it, then lowered herself a little more and with her other foot began the search for another base.
Slowly, she climbed down into the pit, one awkward step at a time. Her reindeer-skin mittens prevented the dexterity needed to properly grip the rock face, yet she clung to it with all her might. Her forearm muscles burned and her legs ached.
As she lowered farther and farther down, the storm's power lessened. The wind didn't bite as hard, and visibility got better. She chanced a glance below, but it made her stomach roil with vertigo. The gray lip of rock was almost at its end, and there seemed to be nothing more beyond but a bottomless quarry. As she stared into the pitch, her vision blurred and her world spun.
"Mama ..." came the voice from the void.
Startled, Anuska lost her footing. She scrambled to regain purchase, but it was no use. Her legs slipped out from under her and she slid down the remainder of the rocky gray rim. Her knees smashed into a ledge, and then she fell screaming into the darkness below.
Location: Chongjin, North Korea
Jonathan Teller tore off a piece of his shirt sleeve and tied it just below the knee as tightly as possible. The blood flow from the gunshot wound in his calf subsided. The bullet seemed to have passed straight through. Hunched behind the blast furnace, careful not to press his back against the hot surface, Jonathan wiped a grimy arm across his forehead, then inspected his M9A3 Beretta. Ten rounds left. No additional clip. This was not going how he'd imagined.
The sweltering heat in the furnace room made the clothes stick to his skin and sweat run into his eyes. Jonathan wiped his face again, blinking away the sting. His crew wasn't answering over the radio and there was only one way in or out of where he was. He had to hold his ground and hope his entire team wasn't dead.
A loud clang from the back of room echoed off the metalwork.
Jonathan eased back the hammer on his Beretta and exhaled. Time to go to work. He quickly glanced around the huge furnace. Two men edged their way forward, flanking his position either side of the oven. In one movement, Teller stood, pivoted to the left of the furnace, and fired two clean shots into the chest of the first attacker. The man spluttered blood down his chin, stumbled to the side, then fell into the bright orange river of molten steel. His wet body hissed and the river spat droplets of metal onto the walkway. Jonathan ducked back down behind the giant kiln and gripped his injured leg.
More clanging rang throughout the room as the second soldier rushed down the right side toward Jonathan. The man paused at the edge, and crouched down.
Teller laid on his side and, between the metal framework, took aim at the man's ankle. He gently squeezed the trigger. The enemy's Achilles tendon exploded and his shrill scream filled the room. Jonathan scrambled to his feet and hobbled around the furnace. Without hesitation, he fired a kill shot to his attacker's head. The screaming ceased.
Jonathan slumped to the floor beside his assailant and clutched at his own calf. Focus, Jon, he thought. He breathed away the pain and then pawed at the dead man's fatigues searching for clues. The gear was definitely North Korean Military, but something didn't add up. His morphology seemed more Japanese than Korean. And his weapon — Jonathan picked it up and studied it. The markings had been filed off, but it was a Markov for sure. A Soviet sidearm. And the strangest thing of all: the tattoo. Hidden behind the man's left ear was a small black Arabic nine. What the hell was going on? What was the connection?
Teller rubbed his temples. North Korea was created by a former Soviet commando, Kim Il Sung, and the Korean People's Army with help from Moscow. The KPA brought together those Koreans who were either veterans of the Soviet Red Army or anti-Japanese guerrillas based in China. Was that it? Were the Russians supporting North Korea now? If so, why did this guy look Japanese? And why have an Arabic number tattoo?
He shook his head. This wasn't helping. He had to get out of there.
Men's voices drifted through the doorway. Shit. Jonathan shuffled back behind the furnace and checked his Beretta again — not that he needed to: six rounds left. He concentrated on the ringing footsteps. That was more than six people. It was an outfit.
One last time, Jonathan clicked on his radio and whispered as harshly as possible. "Delta team. Come in Delta team. I'm in the furnace room. Over."
"Come in Delta team."
Jonathan tapped the radio on his forehead and then switched it off before hooking it to his belt. "Okay, looks like I'm gonna have to shoot my way outta this one." He stood on his good leg and readied his weapon. "Here we go."
Rapid gunfire echoed out from the hallway followed by shouting and muffled screams.
"Sir?" a man yelled.
"Teller?" called another.
Jonathan sighed in relief at the sound of American voices. His teammates' voices. "In here, boys."
Six soldiers dressed in arctic combat gear shuffled into the room, swinging their camouflaged assault rifles left and right, scanning for further threats.
"It's okay, boys. It's clear."
"Jesus, Teller what happened back there?" one soldier asked.
Teller slid out from behind the furnace and smirked. "We were gonna lose the opportunity. I had to move."
Tony Franco knelt down by his commanding officer and inspected the gunshot wound. "We didn't get to do anything other than save your ass."
"You shouldn't have. The needs of the many ..."
"Don't. Not another Star Trek reference. It's no wonder you can't get laid, boss." Tony laughed, his wide smile revealing perfectly polished teeth. "So, same guys?"
Teller winced as his wound was poked. "Yeah. A mixed bag of gear, and totally the wrong ethnicity."
"And the tattoo?" said another soldier, stepping up.
"Yep. Same one, Gibbs. Take some pics, let's see if we can ID these guys. And radio the angel, I want outta here ASAP. We followed them back here, but I don't wanna stay longer than we have to."
"Any idea why they came here at all? Why a steel works?" Tony scanned the room again.
"I don't know. But, this mill has history," Teller replied. "This was the Seishin Iron and Steel Works, built in the 1930s by the Japanese who stayed after the Russo-Japanese war. They used to manufacture steel for the military here, but it was shut down following the depression years ago."
"What's your point boss?" Tony asked, bandaging up Teller's leg.
"Does this look shut down to you?" Teller raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Gibbs and Tony glanced about the room, noting the molten river of steel pouring from the furnace.
"Okay, so it's fired up. Then where are the workers?" Gibbs asked.
"I think they got a heads up we were coming," Teller replied. "These clowns probably thought they could lose us in here. It's how they got the jump on me. I'm still piecing it together. But I'm telling you there's more to this than we can see right now. We'll do a quick sweep, then get the hell outta here."
"I can actually hear that big brain of yours whirring, boss. Now's not the time. Get your heavy ass up."
Tony grabbed one of Teller's arms, swung it around his neck and hoisted up his friend.
"Umm, sir? You have a message on the sat phone," one of the soldiers said.
"Fort Meade?" Jonathan asked.
"Someone called Freya Nilsson?" the soldier replied. "How the hell did a civilian get this number?"
Teller smirked again. Freya Nilsson was no civilian.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Children of the Fifth Sun"
Copyright © 2018 Gareth Worthington.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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