“This has never been our fight, but whether we like it or not, it is now.”
Nearly three months have passed since the assassination of Ikaro Tachi, but for some, the incident has had a lasting effect. Years of trust and reliance have been compromised. Betrayal and secrets have created wounds that may never fully heal.
Ziva Payvan is no stranger to the concept of keeping — and uncovering — secrets. But when she swore to fulfill the final wishes of a dying friend, she never expected that task to include exposing one of the biggest and longest-kept secrets in the galaxy.
A new threat has been looming on the horizon, one nobody ever saw coming. Strategic attacks by the mysterious entity known as Ronan are leaving the Haphezian military stunned and crippled, and a member of Ziva’s own squad has been captured. The rest of the team must join forces with old allies and enemies alike in order to reveal the endgame of this new adversary. But the closer Ziva gets to uncovering Ronan’s intentions, the closer she comes to jeopardizing a secret of her own, one she has killed to keep. Her choice becomes simple: protect herself as she has always done, or make a personal sacrifice to protect everything she holds dear.
Who — or what — is RONAN?
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An Excerpt from Ronan…
The sound of the portable comm grid coming to life startled Skeet Duvo out of his thoughts. His long legs already dangled over the edge of the stiff little bunk he lay on, so he worked his way into a sitting position and planted his feet on the floor, standing bolt upright when he saw that the indicator light on the communications console blinked red.
He made it across the darkened room in two strides and hovered over the console for a moment, wide eyed. A red message light meant only one thing: a transmission straight from Emeri Arion’s office at the Haphezian Special Police’s Noro headquarters. And that in itself meant only one thing: bad news.
Skeet ran a hand through his spiky orange hair and drew in a deep breath before accepting the transmission. “Duvo, Alpha 40318,” he said in response to the prompt that preceded the message. A series of tones and static followed, odd for a call coming directly from the director. But instead of Emeri’s gruff voice, he found himself listening to the eerie feminine voice of HSP’s virtual intelligence.
“General distress. Agency-wide emergency protocols in effect. All agents currently dispatched to the field are asked to cease communications immediately. Operate under Condition Black until further notice. Warning: for security purposes, do not attempt to establish contact with HSP or any affiliates during this time.”
Condition Black. The team had conducted a mission under Condition Black once, Skeet recalled, but mainly for training purposes. They’d been allowed no contact with the agency, no contact with any other ops teams, no contact with anyone on Haphez for that matter. Although it seemed like they were being hung out to dry, the protocol was in fact designed to protect field agents; if the agency was somehow compromised, anyone in the field could remain anonymous and, theoretically, work independently to counter whatever force threatened headquarters. If Condition Black was in effect now, it could only mean—
“Does the user have any queries before this transmission terminates?”
Skeet drummed his fingers on the console. “What’s the status of Noro Headquarters?”
“One moment…Noro Headquarters remains under Code Red lockdown following an attack on the Grand Army’s Na Base. Casualties have been reported.”
He felt his pulse spike at the mention of Na. “Nature of the attack?”
“Base officials have initially categorized the attack as type: chemical. No other information is available at this time.”
“Find person: Ziva Payvan.”
“Accessing personnel database…searching. Alert; status of person ‘Ziva Payvan’ not found. Please try again.”
“Sheyss,” Skeet muttered, ruffling up his hair again. “No more questions. End transmission.”
“Ending transmission. Warning: Condition Black protocols in effect. Please cease all communications immediately.” The VI repeated itself twice more before the call went dead.
Skeet swore under his breath again and immediately began packing the communications equipment into its compact carrying cases. Everything in the room had been set up in a manner that allowed it to be torn down and stowed in a matter of minutes. Even on his own, he got the job done in no time. He held his pistol up to check the charge, bristling a bit when the door of the room slid open. A quick glance revealed that the intruder was only Aroska Tarbic, and Skeet slid his finger away from where it had subconsciously come to rest on the pistol’s trigger guard.
If the former field ops lieutenant was surprised to see the room empty and their supplies packed, he concealed it well. “Can I assume this is about the emergency code I just received from Headquarters?” he asked, holding up his communicator.
Skeet nodded and gave Aroska a quick rundown of what he knew, which, he regretted, wasn’t much. “It sounds like the agency is secure for now. I’m sure they’ll be on board with the investigation on Na.”
Aroska was quiet for a moment as he checked his own pistol and slid his field pack over his shoulders. “What’s Ziva’s status?”
“Unknown,” Skeet answered. “There…were casualties. But I’m sure she’s fine. That base covers the majority of the moon – what are the chances she was even in the vicinity of the attack?” He forced a good-natured snort, trying to ignore the knot that had formed in his throat.
“We can’t worry about that now,” Aroska said, brow wrinkled as if it pained him to speak the words. He held up the data pad he’d been carrying when he entered the room. “We may have a lead, and you know as well as I do that we’re running short on time.” He offered the pad when Skeet reached for it. “Heat signatures from a ship matching our target were picked up by a science team on Bectin. They said it was headed further out into the Fringe, toward Aubin or Plaunus.”
Skeet handed the data pad back and gathered up some of the cases he had packed. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving.”