The second entry in the Star Wars-inspired series that Nerdist calls "the next big thing."
Though the ragtag group of misfits known as the Black Star Renegades won a decisive battle by destroying Ga Halle’s War Hammer, the war is far from over. In response to losing the crown jewel of its fleet, the evil Praxis empire has vengefully reinforced its tyranny across the galaxybut its rule won't be had so easily. Led by hotshot pilot Kira Sen, a growing rebel force stands in the way of Praxis’s might. Not only do they possess the will to fight for galactic freedom, they also possess the ultimate ace in the hole: The mythical Rokura, the most powerful weapon ever known.
Too bad Cade Sura hasn’t figured out to use it.
As Kira wages an increasingly bloody war against Praxis, Cade is left with only once choice: With Ga Halle scouring every star system for the coveted weapon, Cade embarks on a dangerous mission into uncharted space to discover the Rokura’s origins. Only then can he learn how it can be wielded. Because if he doesn’t, all hope for the galaxy might be lost.
About the Author
MICHAEL MORECI is a novelist and author of comic books who has been recognized as one of Newcity Lit's "Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2018." His comics include the critically acclaimed sci-fi trilogy Roche Limit and the military horror drama Burning Fields. He's also written Suicide Squad for DC, Planet of the Apes for Boom!, and his other original titles include Curse, Hoax Hunters, ReincarNATE, and Black Hole Repo. As a novelist, Michael is currently writing Spy Swap, an espionage thriller for Tor/Forge. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two sons, and dog.
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More enemy fire deflected off the Rubicon's shields, causing both the ship to bounce in space and Cade's stomach to bounce into his chest. He wrapped his hand around a strap that hung from the cargo hold wall, steadying himself as he swallowed his insides down. After taking a deep breath, he looked over and saw Kira smirking at him.
"What?" Cade asked, agitated.
"Nothing, nothing at all," Kira said. "I just didn't know you were so delicate. But it's fine. Totally cool."
Cade groaned. "You know, even by our standards, this is excessively stupid."
Kira put up her hands. "Hey, don't look at me. This is your friend's idea."
"Huh?" came Mig's voice from the back of the cargo hold, where he was tinkering with something or other. "Is Cade complaining again?"
"I'm not complaining," Cade said. "I'm just ... processing. Verbally. I'm verbally processing."
"Verbally processing your complaint," Kira said. "We got it."
"You know what? I'm ready. I am ready to jump out of this ship now."
"Such a sensitive Chosen One." Mig snickered as he stepped in front of Cade and started fiddling with his grav suit. "I'm just going to shut this clasp. If you're going to leap into the cold, deadly abyss of space, it's best if your enclosure is airtight."
Cade rolled his shoulders, unable to find any comfort inside the cumbersome exoskeleton. Grav suits were nothing new; crew members used them all the time, especially on larger starships, to make exterior repairs. But in those instances, the grav suits were tethered to the ship. They moved slowly and safely.
Mig's version was neither slow nor safe. He'd reinforced Kira's grav suits so the exterior was harder to penetrate, but Cade was less concerned with the ramifications of taking enemy fire and more concerned with the suit's propulsion capabilities, which, thanks to Mig's upgrades, could now power a small starhopper. Having that kind of power right beneath his feet and hands didn't sit well with Cade. Especially since he was supposed to use that power to propel himself through space and hope nothing went wrong — and in this case, wrong could send Cade careening off into space, where he'd die a long, excruciating death. Cade had one fear in life, and that was it. He could take on a squad of Praxian drones with hands so steady you could rest your drink on them; he could fly any ship through a furious dogfight with a smile on his face. While he didn't relish the idea of meeting the sharp end of a quanta staff or being incinerated by an enemy starfighter, at least those ends would be quick. But confronting the vast, emptiness of space? Where he'd float for days and do nothing but think? That scared the crap out of him.
The ship was rocked by enemy fire again, and Cade nearly lost his lunch.
"You know," Kira said, "if I could hand over the control of my ship to your cranky drone, you should be able to handle this."
"I never thought I'd say this, but for the first time, Duke is actually the least of my problems," Cade said.
From over his shoulder, Cade heard 4-Qel's heavy gait as he lumbered down the cargo hold's ramp. He "whistled" a monotone tune as he joined Cade, Kira, and Mig.
"Personally, I'm excited," the drone said. He'd been equipped with the propulsion units, but he didn't need the grav suit. Because, apparently, nothing could kill him.
"So you like the idea of hurtling through space with a questionable amount of control over your body?" Cade said. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"I'll be like a graceful speck among the cosmos, as close as I will ever get to being united with the fabric that binds all sentient life."
Cade and Kira shared a curious look.
"Or," 4-Qel continued, "a weapon of massive power, out to exact my destructive purpose."
"That's more like it," Kira said.
Mig punched in the code on the cargo hold's control panel. The hold's door lowered slowly, revealing a deep blackness punctuated by pinpricks of stars.
"From here, the drop to the Kundarian trade ship should take no more than two minutes," Mig informed the team. "Use the suit exactly like I showed you; let it do most of the work, and you're good."
Mig joined Cade, Kira, and 4-Qel, and together they walked toward the lip of the cargo door. In just seconds, they'd be jumping off it; Cade tried to convince himself that he was relieved to finally have it done with. He'd been sweating this solution to liberating the Praxis-occupied Kundarian vessel ever since it wasconceived, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't bring himself to liking it. In fact, he hated it.
"Oh, one other thing!" Mig yelled over the din of the cargo door's hydraulic system. "Do not forget that last thing I told you!"
Cade shot a panic-stricken look at Mig. "Wait, what?" he asked. "What last thing?"
"Huh?" Mig said, holding his armored hand up to where his ear was, beneath his helmet. "Sorry, I can't hear you."
"What last thing? You didn't —" Cade looked over and saw Kira practically bursting as she tried to hold in her laughter.
"Oh, hilarious," Cade said. "Real mature."
"Still can't hear you," Mig toyed.
"Then read my lips!" Cade yelled, and then he mouthed, very clearly, a pointed obscenity.
But then the noise stopped as the door was completely lowered.
"All right, boys," Kira said. "Time to fly."
* * *
The space above the planet Kundar was punctuated by streaks of light screaming across the sky. Kundarian freedom fighters engaged Praxian Intruders with the goal of drawing them away from the trade ship that'd been hijacked by the evil Praxis kingdom weeks earlier. It'd been sitting inert since, a bargaining chip against the Kundarian freedom fighters who were waging a bloody ground assault against Praxis's occupation of their planet. Praxis's deal with Kundar was simple: Surrender, join the kingdom, and the trade ship carrying essential supplies would be released from orbit. Kundar's answer, as evidenced by the dogfight taking place over their planet, was clear.
Resistance to its imperial ambitions — ambitions that wouldn't settle for anything less than complete control of the entire galaxy — was new to Praxis. The kingdom used to be able to rely on its War Hammer — a massive starship that had the power to drain the energy from a planet's nearest star, leaving it dark, cold, and dead — to be the ultimate deterrent, but Cade and his friends changed all that. Defying the odds, defying orders to relent, Cade, Kira, Mig, and 4-Qel pulled off what had previously been an unthinkable task: They blew the War Hammer into a million little pieces, and that strike wound up being the opening salvo in a war across the galaxy.
But Praxis wasn't about to relinquish its control so easily.
In the wake of having the crown jewel of its fleet blown out of the sky, the evil kingdom doubled down on its assault of neutral planets like Kundar, forcing more and more worlds to fly Praxis's bloodred flag. Praxis smothered planets with numbers; no system could match its air and ground forces. The planet's enlistment rate was ten times higher than the next highest planet, and if that wasn't enough, Praxis also conscripted ancillary forces from the planets they annexed. Still, the destruction of the War Hammer proved that sometimes might doesn't matter; sometimes sheer numbers aren't enough. Not when you have willingness. Not when you're fighting for what you believe is right. And that's why Cade was hurtling through space at a clip he didn't even want to think about, soaring toward the Kundarian trade ship so he and his friends could free it from Praxis's control and, from there, aid the planet's freedom fighters in their efforts to evict Praxis from their home once and for all. Cade and his friends — referred to as the Black Star Renegades, a moniker Mig anonymously spread through the galaxy because he said it made them sound "more legit"— had become Praxis's fulcrum, balancing its agenda of conquest and control with the hope for freedom. The hope to resist and win.
Below Cade, Kundarian starfighters, with their sleek dual engines and chromium shells, executed evasive maneuvers as they deftly flew circles around Praxis's Intruders; the Kundarians unleashed proton blast after blast, but only as a defensive measure and to keep the Intruders off-balance. The barrage filled the space with innumerable points of light; to Cade, it was like looking through a kaleidoscope while high on kerbis. Still, it kept Praxian fighters away from the trade ship for the time being. This little plan of Mig's was plenty suicidal already; the last thing Cade needed was to navigate his way through airspace that was littered with both enemy and friendly fire and the flaming wreckage of countless starships. That'd be the only thing that could make this worse, Cade thought.
Until things got worse in a way Cade didn't anticipate.
The Kundarian trade ship was in Cade's sights and coming on fast. But as he got closer to the vessel — shaped like a crescent moon with a bulbous command console in its center — Cade noticed small disks launch from the ship's starboard side. Dozens of them spun in Cade's direction. Hundreds of them.
His heart sank into his guts.
"Guys!" he yelled into his comms. "We've got incoming!"
"Damn it," Kira snarled. "Razor drones."
Destruction didn't even begin to describe a razor drone's purpose. Cade had to make up a word because no existing word appropriately captured the razors' single-minded penchant for carnage. Annihilatory. That would do. The drones were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to magnetically attach to the hull of a ship and tear it to shreds. Which was bad. Because ships without exteriors to keep them, among other things, pressurized and stabilized? They tend to fall from the sky. Uncontrollably. And the people inside fare even worse than the ship after it crash-lands.
Cade was currently covered in a material identical to the hulls of most ships. He had seen the razors' work with his own eyes. It didn't take much for him to conjure an image of what the drones would do to his grav suit and then his skin, intestines, and so on.
But Cade wasn't a ship. He wasn't just some sack of meat in a grav suit. He was the Paragon ... kind of. Of sorts. A Paragon in training. Despite his leveling up, or maybe because of it, Cade still relished any opportunity to be reckless. Possessing the Rokura was just an excuse for him to double down on his wanton disregard for his own well-being.
"So, Mig, weren't you the one saying how we'd be too small to be picked up by the trade ship's sensors?" Cade ribbed, exacting a small amount of payback on his friend. "That was you, right?"
"Well," Mig casually responded, "looks like I was wrong."
"All right, here's what we're going to do," Kira said, taking the lead. "Mig, Qel, push yourselves toward the center, to Cade and me. We'll tighten formation and blast our way —"
"Nah," Cade interrupted. "I've got this."
Cade fired his thrusters to maximum burn and was just getting out of suit-to-suit comms range when he heard Kira yell, "I hate it when you do that!" Cade smiled; Kira really did hate it. The thing was, Kira would have flung herself headfirst into a hive of razor drones if it meant fulfilling the mission, even though the odds of her not making it out were slightly worse than taking a sidewinder blast point-blank to the face. Cade recognized how similar they were in their appetite for danger, although their motives were different. Kira chased it because she was a dedicated soldier, and no risk was too great when doing the right thing was at stake; Cade because he had a massive chip on his shoulder — circumstance had yoked him to the belief that he had something to prove, that he'd always have something to prove. What separated Cade and Kira now was simple: Cade had the most powerful weapon in the galaxy at his side, and the upside of that was that he could take stupid risks; the downside was that he often had to strand his friends on the sidelines. The Rokura was too dangerous, and Cade wasn't certain he could tame the weapon if its powers exceeded his control. Still, even if it was for their own good, Cade couldn't help but feel like he was drifting away from the people closest to him.
As Cade drew within spitting distance of the razor drones, their finer details came into focus. Two amber-hued ocular lenses were set into the core of their bulbous bodies and, protruding from their sides, four pincers snapped greedily, anticipating their prey. Cade knew he was an easy target; the Rokura, though, was no one's lunch, and these drones were about to learn what it was like to have the power of destiny shoved up their tailpipes.
Cade aimed the Rokura forward. White-hot energy began to spark off its three blades. Cade thought he should say something witty and clever, but so far, his attempts to craft a catchphrase had only yielded "Taste the heat," and he wasn't sure what that even meant. Besides, his friends already had a lifetime's worth of fodder to bust his chops about in his sometimes-clumsy attempts to play the role of Paragon. So instead, he'd just kick back and let the mystical weapon perform its magic. That's how this whole thing worked; though Cade would never admit it to anyone, he knew the truth: The Rokura was in charge, not him.
Sure, they'd settled into a tense truce since the weapon chose him over Ga Halle. Cade used it as seldom as possible, and in those instances, the Rokura obliged his commands. It helped free him and Kira from a nakal beast's den on Ryson, and it destroyed Praxis's prototype mobile drone garrison on Bondra before it could escape the planet's orbit. The Rokura had no choice. Until Ga Halle could prove her worthiness over Cade or another true Paragon — like Cade's brother, Tristan — came along, it would just have to make the best of whatever the galaxy threw its way, even if it was a second-best destiny. Still, even though the Rokura was as stuck with Cade as he was with it, he felt its darkness swirling on the periphery of their alliance. Deep down, the weapon was still intent on shaping Cade into the Paragon it deemed worthy of the mantle. And that worthiness, it seemed to Cade all too often, required pursuing a path that was darker than he'd ever be comfortable with. The weapon still spoke to him, still urged him to quench a thirst for power that he didn't possess. Light existed in it as well, and Cade felt it struggle for domination against the darkness. What kept Cade awake at night was his fear that he'd never find a way to harmonize both sides. As he struggled, the Rokura's more aggressive half taunted Cade with the promise of unlocking its full, true power. In his meditations, Cade caught glimpses of what that power had to offer, and it terrified him. Images of a city engulfed in flames, of a Praxian warship being torn apart, of innocent, frightened people begging for mercy clouded his mind, and Cade knew that he'd never acquiesce to such terrifying expectations. But he also knew that, until he did, he'd never be the Paragon's true master, let alone partner. And that meant he was vulnerable. That meant, one day, the Rokura would stop working on his behalf.
What happened after that was anyone's guess. Cade could only hope, as the razor drones buzzed around his head, that that day wasn't today.
Energy of incalculable might poured off the Rokura, and the first razor drone that tested that crackling white light received the teeniest taste of its power. It was enough to obliterate the drone from existence. One jolt from the Rokura and the drone convulsed, briefly, and then it was gone.
Cade wished that small sample of the Rokura's might would be enough to deter the hundreds of other drones from attacking. But no one ever learns.
"Stupid machines," Cade grumbled as the drones descended on him en masse. He shut off his propulsors, and the abrupt end of his momentum was enough to drop Cade out of the capsule the razors were attempting to cover him in. As he drifted back, Cade aimed the Rokura at the pursuing drones and let it rip. A single blast shot out from its head and shredded the drones in his vicinity. His path clear, Cade activated his propulsors and carved an upward arc with the firing Rokura leading the way. With the razors in pursuit, Cade angled the Rokura down and widened its blast radius; he eliminated swaths at a time, but the relentless drones still continued their pursuit.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "We are Mayhem"
Copyright © 2019 Michael Moreci.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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