Noah, an orphan from Earth’s last days who, as a child, was smuggled to safety across the stars, is now nearly a man and a leader to the young enclave of Earthborn who reside on Sora. When the tranquility of their settlement is shattered by a shocking assassination attempt, Noah turns to his combative younger brother Erik, Lucas and Asha’s only child by blood, for aid. Their journey takes them to the remnants of a dead planet, an outlaw-infested space station, and back to Sora, whose inhabitants are bracing for a final showdown with the bloodthirsty Xalans.
They find themselves facing a new evil: the omnipotent Archon, who is somehow controlling the whole of the Xalan horde, and his bloodthirsty lieutenant, the Black Corsair, who has an unmatched taste for brutality. The Archon, so-called God of the Shadows, has unearthed knowledge that could wipe both Sorans and humans alike from the face of existence. The descendants of the Earthborn must uncover the true nature of the Archon and the Xalans before he burns everything they know and love to ashes.
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The war raged on.
Noah was surrounded. He couldn't see them in the mist, but he heard their footsteps on the ancient stone. They were sprinting around his position to flank him. The rest of his team was gone; he'd heard their screams on his radio before the feed went silent.
He was the last one standing, and there was no way he was getting out alive.
Checking his magazine, he knew he should have listened more closely to the Watchman's lessons about conserving ammunition. He only had enough charge for another handful of shots. Too much had been wasted on a sniper far out of his range, an enemy whom he'd ultimately had to flee from anyway, lest he lose his head in the exchange.
His armor was hot and his helmet felt like it was suffocating him. But he didn't dare remove it; its HUD data was proving too invaluable. The display showed him the approximate positions of the shapes in the woods, tracking their footsteps on the forest floor and their heat signatures. They were using the same sort of tech to see him. His team should have been better prepared. There was no way they should have been wiped out like this.
The downed stone pillar he hid behind was starting to feel like a grave marker. Noah needed to retreat into the temple if he was going to have any shot of taking at least a few down with him before he joined his fallen squadmates. Breathing heavily, he gradually inflated himself with enough confidence to make the run.
It's fifty feet. Their view is obstructed. They'll miss.
But would they? Noah was a larger target than most. He was nineteen in Earth years, but towered over everyone in his unit. The strength that came with his size was often a blessing in combat, but it wasn't advantageous when dodging enemy fire.
He finally convinced himself it was true and lobbed his last pulse grenade over the top of the fallen pillar. The moment he heard it detonate, he took off toward the crumbling stone archway behind him. Even if it hadn't fried anyone directly, the afterglow would wreak havoc with their sensors and targeting systems. At least he hoped it would.
He heard the blasts of the first two shots coming from somewhere behind him to the left. Neither hit him, and he didn't slow his pace. The door was close, twenty feet, ten. One final shot whizzed by the side of his head so close he felt his hair stand on end, but he dove through the entrance and found himself in a much more secure place. From outside he heard the dismayed cries of his enemies as they berated each other for failing to take him down as he fled. Noah breathed a sigh of relief. But he wasn't comforted for long; he knew there were many other ways into the temple. He had to move quickly.
There wasn't time to admire the workmanship that had gone into the murals etched into the stone corridors around them. Gods, monsters, warriors, the usual. The only thing he was interested in were the secret passageways the ancient architects had built.
Noah hurdled a stone altar, long absent of anything resembling a sacrifice, but almost tripped over the body that lay sprawled on the other side. He quickly crouched over it and pulled back the helmet. It was Kadoma, one of his squadmates. Her dark features were serene and calm, her eyes closed. Noah quickly remasked her, then scoured her body for anything useful, his face devoid of emotion for his fallen ally.
Even with his size, it wasn't practical to dual-wield her rifle, though he did take its mostly full clip. She'd barely had a chance to fire at anyone before being hit. He pulled another pair of pulse grenades from her hip and the sidearm pistol from her ribs. He'd lost his own in a bout of hand-to-hand combat outside, an encounter he'd walked away from unscathed. The same could not be said for his opponent.
More footsteps made him fumble one of the grenades, which rolled under the altar. He was forced to leave it there as he sprinted into an adjacent chamber. Voices whispered and two armored figures crept into the room he'd just left. They spoke English.
"He was here," the first one said.
"Are you sure you know how to read those sensors?" the second said. "You weren't just tracking the corpse?"
Noah peered around the corner and saw the second figure lightly kick the downed Kadoma.
"I know the difference between —"
Noah had heard enough. He spun out from the wall and planted his feet. With their backs to him, the shots from the pistol were precise.
A blue flash of light exploded off the back of the helmet of the first figure. The second only had time to curse and pivot around before another pair of blasts dropped him. Now there were three bodies at the foot of the altar. The old gods would have been pleased.
Noah took two steps forward before he heard a click and felt a barrel press into the back of his neck plating.
"Drop it," came the voice.
Noah shook his head, furious he'd let this happen. He reluctantly chucked his pistol toward the pile of bodies and felt his rifle ripped from his back by a gloved hand. The width of the barrel pressed against him indicated a scattershot housing. The weapon was a close-range killer, perfect for a maze like the temple.
"Nice work," Noah said.
"Haven't had a live capture in a while. Much more valuable, they tell me," said the voice from behind him. Noah started to peer around his shoulder cautiously.
"But you know what?" the voice continued. "I'm not quite sure I care."
Noah knew enough about who was in that armor to understand what was about to happen next. The scattershot's trigger was pulled at the exact moment Noah whipped around to knock it sideways with his elbow. The noise was deafening, but he regained his balance and threw a punch into the armored figure's forearm, causing the gun to clatter to the ground. Immediately, the soldier whipped out a pistol from his belt with his other hand, but Noah blocked his arm and the shot went wide.
Using all of his famed strength, Noah grabbed the soldier's wrist and neck and shoved him into the opposite wall. Noah wrenched upward, raking the figure along the stone. The soldier's feet now dangled above the ground. The pistol fell from his grasp, but the moment the metal clinked on the floor, the soldier brought both his knees up and they connected directly with Noah's chin. Noah staggered backward, eyes full of stars, and the figure dropped to the ground, rubbing his neck where the armor had been bent inward to a painful degree by Noah's grip.
When he regained his senses, Noah tried to land a haymaker, but only succeeded in splintering the stone behind his target. Pain shot through his two largest knuckles. The soldier was incredibly quick, and caught Noah with a nanosuit-amplified one-two punch to the ribcage, which cracked his armor plating. As he doubled over, the soldier righted him with an uppercut that caused Noah's helmet display to short out. A second punch detached the helmet from its housing entirely and it bounced haphazardly across the stone floor.
Noah finally managed to block, deflecting a pair of lightning-fast kicks from the smaller figure. On the third attempt, he brought an elbow down on the soldier's thigh, which caused him to cry out in pain and limp backward. Noah seized on the opportunity and charged. Unfortunately, the nimble, wiry soldier deftly moved sideways and caught Noah by the elbow as he did so. He flung Noah directly into the wall, headfirst, and Noah felt pain explode through his now unarmored skull. He flipped around, barely able to keep his balance. His vision was spotted with red-and-black blotches, but he could see the soldier removing his helmet with one hand, as he pointed the retrieved scattergun at him with the other. The familiar, sneering face slowly came into focus.
"Alright, Erik," Noah said, panting. "Take me in. You got me."
Erik's dark hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat. His bright green eyes stood out against his tanned skin, and burned with a mix of rage and delight.
"As I said, I don't really do live captures."
Noah slowly shook his head and extended his hand outward.
"You don't have to —"
"You lose again, brother," Erik said as he pulled the trigger. There was a flash of blinding light. Noah saw nothing but darkness.CHAPTER 2
The word was on his lips, as it was nearly every time he woke. But as soon as it appeared, it drifted away again, forgotten.
Light crept into his eyes as he opened them, and a blurry face began to take shape. When he recognized it, he couldn't help but grin, despite the throbbing agony inside his head.
Sakai returned the smile, brushing her long brown hair over the top of her ear. Her facial features took more from her father, a man from the once great Earth-nation of Japan, but her body was her Brazilian mother's, with light caramel skin and graceful curves at her hips.
"I can't believe you're awake already," she said as her narrow eyes widened in surprise. "The silvercoats said a close-range stun round to an exposed head would have you out for a day at least." Noah slowly pulled himself upward and rested on his elbows. His armor had been stripped away and he was clad in his fiber undersuit. He looked around the med bay and saw both teams of his unit being treated for various minor injuries. All had risen from the unconsciousness caused by the stun rounds. The exercise was over. His team had lost again.
He rubbed his eyes and felt a light kiss on his forehead. He smiled at Sakai, who somehow managed to look radiant despite being drenched in sweat and splattered with mud.
"You went out early this time," he said, swinging his legs off the side of the gurney where he rested. Machines nearby beeped indicators of his vitals.
"Tehran was being an idiot," she said, exasperated. "I told him they were nested by the log pit, but he wanted to go in anyway. I tried to save his ass, but Quezon fried both of us."
Quezon was helping his half-sister Kadoma to her feet. He was the only one in the unit who was even close to Noah's size. He stood only an inch or two shorter than Noah, despite being three years younger, like nearly everyone else was. He met Noah's eyes and nodded.
"Where's my brother?" Noah asked.
"Getting ripped by the Watchman," she replied, failing to mask a smile. "He wanted to see you also when you were awake, but I don't think he knew you'd be up this soon."
Noah lumbered to his feet and found his nerves tingling. The stun rounds of combat training weren't burning plasma, but they packed a hell of a punch that would linger for hours or even days.
"Might as well see what he wants," Noah said, and bent way down to give the diminutive Sakai a kiss. Everyone was small compared to him, but she was especially so. He knew at least a few of the others had unflattering nicknames for the pair of them, probably concocted by Erik. The rest of Sora knew him by a more grandiose title of honor: the Last Son of Earth. He'd be forever identified by a planet he didn't even remember.
But the Sorans were determined not to let him forget. That was one of the many purposes of Colony One, living and training quarters established on the continent of Losara for the thirty-eight humans still known collectively as the "Earthborn." Though Noah was the only one that identifier described accurately. The rest had been birthed in tanks on Sora, assembled from the twelve comatose humans Alpha had brought with him from Earth. In addition to his parents, of course.
And then there was Erik, the First Son of Sora. He was Lucas and Asha's trueborn son, while Noah had been a stray they'd picked up during their harrowing escape from Earth. Erik was seventeen in the still-used metric of Earth years, with the other Earthborn all sixteen, bred together in a litter.
Noah stepped outside and took in the fresh air, which was a relief from the off-putting antiseptic scent of the med bay. Rolling hills filled with lush pine greenery spread out around him, and the compound itself rose out of the ground ahead.
Colony One was a university, military training ground, and secure dormitory all wrapped up into one. It was built over the ruins of a long-dead holy city destroyed, during one of Sora's countless wars, nearly thirty thousand years ago. Most of the old architecture had been swallowed by the surrounding foliage, but they still utilized some of the more intact sections for training, like the temple where Noah had just met his fictional end. But most of the buildings around him were shiny and new. The government had spared no expense assembling Colony One for the Earthborn. The thirty-eight of them were far too valuable to simply be allowed to melt into the general public. They'd be targets for fanatics, or at best simply become extinct within a generation. It had been revealed that, despite their nearly identical physical similarities, Soran and human biology were incompatible with one another, and an attempt to reproduce between the races would result in the death of both the child and the mother, of either race.
That was why Colony One was formed. It was supposed to be the foundation for a human-only society that would allow their subspecies to someday grow back to its former glory, many thousands of years from now. In the Colony they were taught about both their current home, Sora, but also their former planet, Earth. Everyone, Noah included, spoke fluent English and Soran. Though English hadn't been the most commonly spoken language on Earth, it was the tongue of the original Earthborn, Lucas and Asha, so it became adopted as the old planet's official language. As such, it was taught to everyone in the Colony, student or employee.
They learned the histories of both worlds, though Earth's past was full of more than a few holes. Everything the Sorans knew about the planet had come from Alpha's pre-invasion research, and as smart as he was, he hadn't managed to preserve the complete annals of human history. Still, Noah was fascinated by stories of the major wars of the Romans, Greeks, Huns, Chinese, Germans, and Americans. There was much to learn from them, even if the technology had changed over time.
Unfortunately, the real war, the one with Xala, was still a more pressing concern. It was why they were diligently trained at arms, despite no actual intention to ever send such valuable citizens into battle. But homeworld strikes were still possible, and with humanity on the brink of extinction, they needed to know how to defend themselves, perhaps more than any other civilians on the planet.
Noah walked past the angular, multi-peaked pyramid of the technology nexus and toward the Watchman's quarters, where he expected to find his brother. He approached a pair of Earthborn, already discharged from med bay, it seemed, and out for a walk on the grounds. Lyon had brown eyes with chestnut curled hair and was spawned from a French father and Australian mother. Veria was Greek-Filipino, her features dark and rich. Each of the tank-borns usually did extensive research into their countries of origin, but it was hard to really feel a sense of national pride given their current circumstances. It was more for curiosity than anything else, and despite different points of origin on the globe, all that mattered was that they were all from Earth. The thirty-eight of them had grown up together here, the last of their kind.
Lyon and Veria had been a pair for as long as he could remember. Both smiled as he reached them.
"Heard your brother really went all out this time," Lyon said. Lyon had been on the rival squad, and Noah was pretty sure he'd killed him in the opening moments of the conflict, but he didn't say anything to rub it in.
"Sure did," Noah said, putting his palm to his still throbbing head.
"He's a maniac," Veria bristled as they passed by each other.
"He's going to go too far one of these days and someone's going to really get hurt."
In truth, this had already happened many times. Erik's careless disregard for the rules of engagement had resulted in the hospitalization of a few of the Earthborn. But even major injuries were treatable with the colony's state-of-the-art med tech and full-time staff of silvercoats. The Watchman kept devising new and more terrible punishments for Erik after each new offense, but he always ended up laughing it off and continued to treat the rules as mere suggestions.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sons of Sora"
Copyright © 2016 Paul Tassi.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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