On a world enslaved, the last embers of hope are fading into an unrelenting darkness. Conquered and broken, the natives are forced to ravage their own lush planet of its natural resources—all for the glory of a mysterious empire they’ve never seen and barely comprehend.
But not all light is lost. In the heart of one young woman alone, the gods have set a flame that cannot be extinguished. Cerrin remains as fierce and unyielding as the planet itself. And her chance to strike is fast approaching.
Above the skies of her home world, soldiers of the empire are welcoming their new civilian commander—a vicious nobleman blinded by hidden ambitions. When the new face of darkness turns its eyes on Cerrin, the fate of countless worlds will change forever.
The brothers Ehsan and Shakil Ahmad are the first authors to sign with Uproar Books, a new science fiction and fantasy publishing company. WILD SUN will be followed by two additional novels in the Wild Sun series.
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Cerrin had waited a long time for the river lilies.
Early in the season they were too soft and she'd never have reached the far bank. But having watched for the last month she knew they would be rigid now, the dark green skin hard to the touch. Even the smallest lily was eight feet across; they formed an unbroken carpet across the water, flowing past at quite a speed.
Cerrin was moving a lot faster. She charged down the slope, heart pounding in her ears, grass thrashing at her legs.
Twenty-five, twenty-six ...
That's how long the siren had been going; she guessed someone had spotted her climbing over the wall. The Vitaari on patrol duty would be ready, but Cerrin knew they couldn't get to the river in under eighty seconds; it took them that long to power up and launch.
Thirty-one, thirty-two ...
She had to reach the thick forest on the other side. The guards couldn't see through the thick canopy from the air, and on foot they were slow. If she got across, she could get away.
Cerrin altered direction slightly to make sure she was heading for the island. It was small and covered with trees, but she would move quicker across solid ground and there was only forty feet of water between it and the far bank.
Her last step was inches from the edge. She launched herself into the air, clearing the closest lily easily, landing in the middle of the next one. Water had collected on the surface. She skidded but did not fall, used her impetus to keep her body moving.
Forty-one, forty-two ...
She leapt onto the next one, disturbing a flock of yellow-beaked hyatha on the island. They flapped away into the still-dark sky.
This lily was weak. The middle of it folded, her foot almost tearing through the base. But she dragged herself clear, reached the edge, leapt once more.
More surface water. Both feet went at the same time, and she came down on her backside. It seemed to take an age for her to get back on her feet and go again. She was close to the island when she heard the hyatha squawking. That meant they were coming.
Already? Don't look back.
She jumped onto the slick, grassy bank. As she tried to throw her weight forward, her right foot slipped. She clutched a handful of branches from the nearest tree and hauled herself up.
Ikala, god of battle — hear me, see me, help me.
The engine screamed as a guard swooped down. Sounded like just the one. Cerrin heard the combat shell's jets strike the water as she charged on, dodging through the narrow trees. The Vitaari wouldn't actually fire on her, she knew that — they never had before. Then again, with the help of their cursed machines they wouldn't need to.
Don't look back!
Judging by the noise, the guard had landed and was simply smashing his way across the island. Cerrin stumbled through a thorn bush and glimpsed the water ahead. A slender tree trunk came flying over her right shoulder and struck another, showering her with berries and twigs. She looked up as the trunk plummeted toward her. She dropped low, threw her hands up to cover her head.
But no impact came; the trunk had lodged itself in the branches. She set off again.
The guard bellowed something in his own language. As a clear path opened up ahead, Cerrin stole a backwards glance. He was blundering through the trees, the bulky metallic suit tangled in vines and branches. Cerrin might have felt happier had she not known they usually operated in pairs.
Picking her spot carefully, she jumped out onto another solid lily. She caught her first sight of the red-leaved scorra bushes on the far bank.
Not far now. I can make it.
Suddenly she was in a patch of smaller lilies. She landed hard, and her foot went straight through. Fingers scraping at green fibers, she pulled her herself out of the water and leapt again.
Two steps, jump, land. Two steps, jump, land. Her legs were aching, her throat tight. The lilies ahead looked wide and strong. Five more, maybe four.
Now she could hear the howl of a second engine, and it came at her quicker than the first, blocking out every other noise.
Three more lilies. Beyond the last of them was a thick patch of scorra. She would dive straight in, scramble through, stay low.
She threw her arms out as she landed, ran on, leapt again.
Water blown up by the jets blasted at her back. She could hear something beeping.
One long step took her across the lily. She leapt, landed well. The bank was only feet away. She could almost touch the leaves. She ran, jumped —
Something big and impossibly strong gripped her right ankle and lifted her. She screamed as her momentum was stopped in an instant. She fell forward, then hung there, blood dripping from her ankle and rushing to her head. She felt a bone splinter in her leg, pierce her flesh.
Cold water hit her face. The pitch of the engine altered as she was lifted higher.
Ikala, god of battle, strike with me.
She pulled the tiny dagger from her belt, pivoted upward and spied the giant white fingers gripping her leg. She stabbed at one of the silvery knuckle joints, but the blade broke.
She screamed again. The hand moved, turning her toward the Vitaari guard. The combat shell boosted his height to twelve feet; the bulbous metal limbs magnifying his already huge bulk. Through the transparent helmet she could see the leering stare. He was known as Stripe because of the blue streaks tattooed across his face.
He was grinning.
They gave her thirty days in the cage. It was a rusty old thing hung from a solitary tree next to the mine path. A few of the other workers risked a nod as they trudged past, but none of them said anything. Most of them had been in Mine Fourteen for many years. Cerrin had been there only two, one of the newest arrivals. She was proud of that.
For the first week she had to sit; the ankle was too weak and painful to stand on. The Vitaari surgeon who fixed her up at the infirmary had told her she was lucky. The hands of the combat shell could easily crush a human, but Stripe had not snapped her ankle, only fractured it. The surgeon said that wasn't the only reason she was lucky: after three escape attempts, anyone else would have been eliminated. But the governor of Fourteen had been told that the building of a new mine in the Great Forest was going ahead. A scout ship would be dispatched there soon, and she would be on it.
No one else in Fourteen understood the terrain and the creatures of the Great Forest like Cerrin. She knew it; the Vitaari knew it. She helped them because it got her out of the camp and back to where she wanted to be, even if only for a day or so. Some of the other prisoners hated her because of it, but she hated them too; they had given up.
At the end of the second week, Governor Yeterris came to visit her. Even amongst the invaders he was tall, nine feet at least, with a lean, powerful frame that belied his age. He was wearing his usual outfit of flowing white robes with a golden chain around his neck. The translator was attached to his collar. It used what was known as trade or Corvosian — an unsophisticated but widely spoken language that enabled the disparate tribes of the planet to communicate. The Vitaari had insisted that only trade be spoken by their captives; Cerrin had known only a few words when she arrived but was now fluent. The translator got most words and meanings right, but it used only the one impassive voice and caused an awkward delay.
When Yeterris arrived beneath the cage at dusk, the last of the returning day shift gave him a wide berth. He clearly felt no need for either a weapon or a bodyguard. The dying rays of the sun lit his silvery skin as he looked up at her.
"They are feeding you well, I trust?"
Cerrin had learned how to handle him — with grudging cooperation. She alone in Fourteen had an alternative to absolute, unquestioning subservience.
The food was in a sack at the back of the cage. She'd had to ration it carefully, but there was enough. She had plenty of water too and had even managed a shower during a rainstorm.
"Fifteen days left?"
"Yes, governor." She stood up straight for him, even though her ankle hurt.
"I do like your hair, girl. It's as dark as my daughter's."
Yeterris had complimented her before but only when they were alone. At six feet, Cerrin was one of the tallest natives at the mine, male or female. The guards often told her that with some "proper" clothes and some skin coloring she could pass for one of them.
"Can I trust you to behave yourself from now on?" Yeterris continued. "There will be other senior officers joining us on the next scouting mission."
"If I gave you a promise, you wouldn't believe me."
The governor paced around, hands clasped behind him. "If you try anything like this again, the consequences will be most unpleasant. Three attempts? Three, Cerrin? It simply cannot be tolerated. I will not allow you to disrupt the smooth running of this installation in such a way. So, I ask again — will you behave yourself?"
Cerrin wished she had her old bow in her hands. She would launch an arrow straight into that veiny neck and watch the black blood flow. With a hundred more like her and the favor of Ikala, they could take Mine Fourteen: slay this brutal bastard and every last one of his men. But there were no hundred warriors. There weren't even ten.
Sonus knew what was coming. He leaned his drill against the cavern wall, removed his gloves and took a long drink from his water flask. Tanus arrived out of breath, face smeared with dust from his morning's work. There wasn't much chance of being noticed down here, but he would have only minutes to spare.
He was a large man with thinning hair and a blunt nose. Like Sonus, his overalls had been gray to begin with but were now almost as black as the terodite they drilled out of the mountain. He cast a brief glance at the impressive haul Sonus had cut that morning.
"What you said about the dump — the parts in there. Do you still think you can —"
"I should not have mentioned that."
"How long? How long to make something we can use?"
"How much damage would it do?" Tanus took a step closer, shadowing Sonus's face. "Listen, Rinus isn't up do it. He doesn't know what he's doing. But you ..."
"I shouldn't have said anything. Yes, the materials are there to create some sort of crude device, but it would be hard to locate them and almost impossible to put them together. And what's the point? One weapon?"
"It's a start."
Sonus held up his hands. "I'm sorry. I can't help you."
"Can't? Or won't?"
"What difference does it make?"
Tanus shook his head. "I saw you — trying to avoid me yesterday. I saw you, with them. Like some little pet, fixing their machines in return for light shifts and better rations. You make me sick, Sonus. You would rather help them than help us?"
Sonus said nothing until Tanus turned and walked away. "I've made some calculations."
The big man stopped. "What?"
"Based on what I've picked up from the guards. Did you know there are no more than six thousand of us left in the mines? Maybe less."
"The Vitaari are only constructing one more new mine. The reserves of terodite and aronium will be gone within two years, the malkus within three. They will leave. We must do what we can to preserve those of us that remain."
"You think you're the only one that listens, Sonus? I listen too, and I know what they did to the people of the other worlds they conquered. Has anything you've seen of them suggested to you that they are stupid enough to leave us alive — so that we can rebuild and one day take our revenge?"
"They are not all the same."
"The others said you wouldn't listen. Have you no honor?"
"I believe so. And more sense than some."
Tanus muttered an oath and left.
Sonus leaned back against the chilly rock. From the shaft and all the others connected to it came the endless, familiar buzz of the drills.
For fifteen years he had labored here. At first, they had been working just twenty yards beneath the surface. Now he was half a mile down, and what he coughed up in the morning had gone from gray to brown to black. The pain in his lungs was getting worse too, though it had been partly eased by the medicine he'd requested instead of extra rations. Tanus wouldn't care that he'd given most of it to his neighbor for his ailing son. Nor would he care that it was Sonus who had persuaded the governor to allow the workers to take pure air canisters down to breathe during their breaks. Or that his pleas had saved the life of a man who'd dared insult a guard.
Because Tanus listened only to his heart. Sonus knew it would be easy to do the same. Every last man and woman left alive on Corvos had the same collection of sad tales, the same burning desire to be free. Tanus was now left without a single member of his family since his daughter had perished the previous year.
Sonus could create a weapon, perhaps even kill one or two Vitaari before they killed him. But men had tried before, and all they had achieved was to endanger those closest to them and make life harder for everyone else. Sonus listened to his head.
He had his gloves back on and was about to recover his drill when the comcell pinned to his sleeve beeped. The Vitaari needed him.
It took him half an hour to reach the surface: twenty-five minutes of walking, then five in the elevator. The colossal main shaft was almost empty; everyone was working below. Sonus trudged slowly toward the light, giving his eyes time to adjust.
The guard on duty was sitting on a metal pallet, bulky rifle laid out beside him. He was shorter than average but very broad. The dot tattoos across his face were red; most of the others were blue or green. His fellow guards called him "Faraway" because he came from some remote, isolated region of their home world. Sonus had seen them laughing at him and playing practical jokes. And because he often seemed to take his frustrations out on the workers, Sonus kept his distance and waited for his permission to pass. Without looking up, Faraway waved one huge hand toward the light.
The compound was almost as quiet as the main shaft. Eyes still narrowed, Sonus drank in the sweet first breath of air. He hurried on, walking alongside the conveyor that took the largest and hardest chunks of ore to the warehouse. He passed the guard barracks, the infirmary, and the armory. The only sign of activity was two cleaning drones scrubbing the wheels of a trailer.
The tower loomed over all else, bulbous head blinking with red and orange lights. At the bottom were two guards on sentry duty, rifles cradled across their chests. They wore identical plain black fatigues with wide belts and enormous boots. Two admin-istrators were also there, clad in their gray robes, both poring over a data-pad. One of them was Kadessis, the Vitaari who gave Sonus his assignments.
"Ah, there you are."
Sonus nodded cordially and looked up at him. "Sir."
Like all the invaders, Kadessis had protruding bones in his cheeks that seemed to be pushing at the glittering skin. When he was anxious — as he was today — they twitched and looked as if they might burst through. Sonus found Kadessis more even-tempered and approachable than most of them and respected his intellect; the Vitaari had picked up trade in a matter of months.
"Another problem with a drill motivator. It's over in the maintenance yard. The drones aren't getting anywhere, and all the engineers are occupied. Have a look, would you? I've assigned a team of four to help you with the labor."
On his way to the yard, Sonus passed two women. They were carrying trays loaded with steaming food, probably for the staff in the tower. Sonus knew them both by name and greeted them. One replied coldly; the other said nothing. He had become accustomed to such treatment.
There was only a single guard on duty at the yard, and he ignored Sonus as he approached the heavy drill. The big machines usually ran well enough, but occasionally the motivators got clogged up with aronium dust. It was usually a case of removing the affected parts, then cleaning and replacing them; a task that seemed beyond the drones. Two of these white cubic devices hovered, dormant, close to the rear of the drill.
Also present was the work crew. All four were from Sonus's shift; men he had worked and lived with for years. He was delighted to find that one of them was Karas. Sonus smiled, but his old friend barely looked at him. The others seemed happy to escape their usual work in the mine.
"Let's get the cover off."
Karas hung back as the other four began work.
Sonus gave some instructions, then walked over to him. "Are you all right?"
Karas could usually be relied upon for a story or a joke. Sonus had always admired his ability to raise the spirits of others. But he still hadn't spoken.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wild Sun"
Copyright © 2019 Ehsan Ahmad & Shakil Ahmad.
Excerpted by permission of Uproar Books, LLC.
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