I've got another blog post in the works that should be coming through in the next couple of days, detailing why I haven't made much progress on Fracture and why that's starting to change (hint: I've learned something about myself while working on this book, and I'm going to talk about it). Now, you may be thinking, "But EJ, haven't we heard all of this before?" Well, yes, but this time is different...because of the thing I'll talk about in the upcoming post.
In the meantime, I figured it was high time I give everyone something to chew on, so here's a nice, lengthy excerpt for you! I figure if I post enough of these, I'll eventually run out of material, and then I'll be forced to write the book in order to come up with more, right? Riiiiiight?
This is one of the first scenes in the story, found in the second chapter (still in the draft stage, of course). The Alpha team makes a new acquaintance and learns some interesting information about their latest mission...
Skeet stopped his pacing and Zinni rose from her seat when Emeri entered the room with a man Aroska didn't recognize. A whiff of body odor told him the stranger was human; he was well-dressed, probably wealthy, but looked exhausted. Movement drew Aroska's attention back to the door and he saw a pair of personal security detail take up positions just outside before it was shut and locked.
"Pahl Starcer," the director said, extending a hand toward the three of them, "meet Lieutenant Skeet Duvo, Sergeant Aroska Tarbic, and Intelligence Officer Zinnarana Vax, special operations. You requested the best of the best, and it doesn't get any better than these three."
They all exchanged a glance. The majority of their independent service terms were spent thwarting dangers to Haphez, many of which were posed by humans. But now there was one here, to do what...recruit them? The fact that the man was present in Emeri's office meant he—or his proposal, at least—was somehow significant, especially if the rumors of the Royal House's involvement were true. The fact that the team was just now learning about him meant his arrival was either classified or had just been on very short notice. Probably a mixture of both, Aroska reasoned.
"What can we do for you, sir?" Skeet asked, motioning for everyone to go gather around the conference table across the room.
"Mr. Starcer has a problem that is—how did you put it when we spoke—uniquely Haphezian in nature," Emeri explained. "The Royal House recommended the three of you, and when he found out you would be departing soon, he insisted on arranging a meeting before you could do so."
Starcer nodded. "I understand you're preparing to leave for an independent service term. I know the term hasn't officially started, but time is of the essence and I couldn't afford to chase you halfway across the galaxy. Consider my contract in effect as of this moment. Rest assured you will receive additional compensation for your trouble."
"Trouble?" Zinni said. "Trust me, sir, it's anything but trouble."
Aroska had to agree. It was no trouble because it saved them a trip to Aubin, the desert world they usually called home for the duration of the service term. Ordinarily, they would have traveled straight there to set up shop before looking into any HSP intel and pursuing cases on their own, but for the past three years, going there had been...difficult, to say the least. Every time he'd looked out at the sprawling desert, Aroska had had to fight away memories of his near-death at the hands of the Durutians. Based on the amount of time Skeet had spent gazing out over the sand, he felt the same. And of course thinking of that close call in turn sparked memories of their subsequent rescue by...her. Damn it, he couldn't get her out of his head today.
"We're listening," Skeet said, leaning forward over the table and giving Starcer his full attention.
"I run a materials development center on Delatori," the man began. "Carbon composites, flex-steel, heat-resistant plating, you name it. Our primary buyers are vehicle manufacturers, specifically combat vehicles, both land- and air-based. It's one of several centers in the area, and Delatori as a whole is known for its high volume of materials exports."
"Delatori," Skeet mused. "That's Niiosian Mob territory, right?"
Starcer winced. "It is. And, admittedly, many of our buyers have direct ties to the Mob. But it makes for good business. They pay well for our products, and we use the profits to keep producing and expanding. So, yes, you could say we've been absorbed into their network."
"And where exactly do we come in?" Aroska asked.
"How much do you know about the Ibarra Cartel?"
The name sounded vaguely familiar—Aroska felt he had become more in tune to galaxy-wide events since transferring to spec ops—but the question had almost seemed rhetorical. Skeet and Zinni remained silent as well.
"Ibarra has been encroaching on our...the Mob's territory for the past few years, though things have escalated recently. They're a bunch of gun runners, and they do all of their own manufacturing, so they've got considerable firepower and have gained the support of all the smaller groups they supply. Their leader is a man named Manes. Alastair Manes. Young, charismatic, ambitious. Apparently, he inherited the position when he killed his old man. Word is he's got his sights set on Tobias's spot too."
"A gang war?" Skeet said, unimpressed. "I'm still not sure if I see how this affects us."
Desperation flashed through Starcer's eyes. "Manes recently made a push for Delatori. He targeted many of the development centers, including mine, and threatened to destroy them if we didn't start producing for him. I thought if he wanted the materials he wouldn't actually go through with that threat, and I was stupid enough to lead a revolt. Most of the other distribution managers are still loyal to Niio—Tobias may not be an upstanding citizen himself, but he takes care of us. I had a good following, but Manes had an army, and he decided if he couldn't have our materials, no one could. His men came through and decimated everything. Delatori is a war zone right now. Most of the settlements have been evacuated." He stopped to take a deep breath and gripped the edge of the table to still his trembling hands. "As if that wasn't enough, Manes put hits out on all the managers. He claims it was to stop the revolts at the source, but I believe he's just doing it because he can. Most of the others have been killed already. It's possible I'm the only one left."
It still didn't explain why he needed them specifically, and based on the way Skeet's eyes narrowed slightly, he remained skeptical as well. "If you're looking for personal protection detail, the Royal Guard would be a better choice," the burly lieutenant said. "We only do that sort of thing in-house."
Emeri stepped forward is if to intervene, but Starcer continued without assistance. "It's not just that. Manes's assassin, the one who's been carrying out all of these hits...she's Haphezian."
The three of them shifted and threw each other curious looks.
"I've heard the old saying 'it takes a Haphezian to kill a Haphezian' so I knew I would need to come straight to the source for aid, and I'm grateful to your superiors for recommending a team of your caliber. See, Manes himself doesn't concern me at the moment, at least not on the level that this woman does. I have a set of schematics—a physical copy of specs stored in a secure location—that I was due to deliver to a Niiosian manufacturer, and it could give Tobias an edge over these Ibarra thugs. I need the assassin dealt with so I can return to Delatori and see to it that those plans don't fall into the wrong hands."
He paused, and in that instant, Aroska saw his composure wilt away. "Please. I'm the one Manes wants, but he had my daughter killed in hopes of getting me to surrender, and I haven't heard from my son in four days. He was supposed to leave Delatori just after I did. He stayed behind to run interference and throw this assassin off my trail, but—" his jaw trembled "—I don't think he ever made it off-world."
Both Skeet and Zinni were standing up a little straighter than they had been initially, and Aroska's interest in the story had suddenly been rekindled as well. "What more do you know about this woman?" he asked.
"She's a ghost. She made quick work of the other managers, and she knows how to stay out of the spotlight. I've never had the misfortune of encountering her myself, but those who have seen her—the ones who are still alive—describe her as brutal, savage. Rumor has it she goes by Matia Moryi."
Catch up on the series before Fracture's release! Find the Ziva Payvan series in Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon.