After months of waiting, here's a first look inside Exile, the first book in the forthcoming Verity Chronicles series set in the Cadicle Universe. This co-authored book by T.S. Valmond and A.K. DuBoff is set in the years following the original Cadicle series, but it can be read as a standalone.
About the Book
Freedom comes at a price...
TSS Agent Jovani Saletas has a problem with authority. They say he’s insubordinate... or so it's called when you punch a superior officer during a routine training exercise.
With no other place for him, Jovani is shipped off to the outer colonies to run surveillance. The assignment seems tedious until he makes his way onto a newly purchased cargo ship.
Captain Iza Sundari came from nothing, but she’s fought to carve out a life for herself with her eclectic crew on a ship of her own. Captaining a ship is the closest thing to freedom she can find, but she’ll have to pay for it. And freedom comes at a steep price.
When a risky proposition leads to the perfect job, it seems Iza’s financial troubles might be over. But with hidden agendas at every turn, she’ll have to cross a line she swore she never would to protect her ship and crew.
Exile will be released on January 24th!
As the sea of people flowed along the crowded boulevard, all Iza Sundari saw were potential marks. The oblivious tourists gaped at the colossal, glass-covered buildings, ignoring everything else around them. It would be so easy to relieve any one of them of the credit chips in their pockets.
Seven years ago, she wouldn’t have thought twice about pickpocketing. Growing up on the outer edge of the Taran colonies, she’d never enjoyed the comforts available to residents of the inner planets, like these pampered tourists on Kinterin. She’d done whatever she needed to survive, without fear of the consequences. After all, prison wasn’t any worse than how she’d spent most of her life; perhaps it was even an upgrade, in some respects. Though still only twenty-two, she’d matured since her tumultuous teenage years, learning to navigate the ways of the Taran Empire to make a living while staying on the correct side of the law. It wasn’t an easy life, but she got by.
The smiling and impossibly charming faces of the people on inner planets always made Iza impatient and irritable. Anyone too friendly was either selling something or wanted something. She wasn’t in the mood to humor them, so she kept a quick pace. Food was the only thing on her mind; it had been weeks since her last proper meal.
Iza’s dark eyes caught sight of a family of four at an outdoor restaurant, reminiscent of a scene in an advertisement. They don’t know how good they have it.
A throng of tourists stopped abruptly in the middle of the sidewalk in front of her to take a holovideo. In her haste to get around them, she veered to the right.
“Wait, please don’t!”
The cry had come from an alley between two tall buildings. A quick peek revealed a middle-aged man at the point of a pulse gun, pleading for his life. He was dressed in the casual clothing of a tourist on holiday—a loud shirt with a busy, white print and matching red pants. The crowd of people on the boulevard pressed forward without noticing his plight.
Iza sighed. Why do tourists always get themselves into the stupidest situations?
She knew better than to get involved, but she also recognized that the portly man, now on his knees, wouldn’t last the next two minutes if she didn’t do something. She flipped her dark, curly hair behind her shoulders. Here’s a clue, tourists: don’t walk around flashing your credits for everyone to see. She hit the button on her handheld to signal for backup before strolling into the alley.
Iza kept her gun sheathed inside her jacket; the last thing she needed was an arrest for a shootout on a public street. As she approached, the desperate man on his knees saw his salvation and began pleading his case again.
“You don’t want to do this. I swear, I’m innocent,” he said, his bushy eyebrows raised.
His assailant sneered. “That’s not the word I’d use. Try neck-deep.”
Iza saw her moment and jumped in. “Hey, sorry to interrupt. Could you help me with some directions?”
The sandy-haired man with the pulse gun jumped at the sight of her, waving his gun in her direction. Closer inspection revealed that he was younger than she’d anticipated, no more than eighteen.
“Sorry, Gorgeous, I’m not from here, can’t help you. Please leave. This doesn’t concern you.” The cheeky teenager redirected the pulse gun at the older man. He growled between his teeth and narrowed his hazel eyes. “Where is it?”
“I swear I don’t know.” The man rose from his knees, the dirt still clinging to his pants as his eyes flew from his captor’s face to Iza’s.
With her hands raised, Iza took another cautious step toward them. She was in it now and knew that the man’s life was in her hands. “Maybe I can help. I’m not from here, either, but if we help each other, I’m sure we can find what it is you’re looking for,” Iza said. “I’ll be honest, though, the way you’re waving that gun around is making me more than a little nervous.”
She closed the distance between them with another swift stride. In a practiced move learned on the rough streets of the outer colonies, she knocked the gun from the young man’s hand with her left fist, simultaneously kicking the back of his right knee cap. Her other knee connected with his ribs, and he let out a screech that made her flinch.
Iza grabbed his arm and lifted it behind his back, stretching it upward until the young man’s face was pressed to the rough stone wall of the building, pinning him. No longer in danger, the older victim dashed out the opposite end of the alley.
“Wrong way, brainless!” she called out after him. Stars, not even a ‘thank you’?
The teenager squirmed as he struggled to turn his head to watch the man run off. “He’s getting away! Do you know how long I’ve been trying to catch that thief?”
He had a distinct accent that Iza was sure she’d never heard outside of the most refined central planets. Uh oh.
“I’m sorry, you had a gun. I thought you were robbing that tourist—”
“He’s no tourist! He stole from me. Besides, take a good look at me. Why would I be robbing him?”
Only now did Iza notice that the young man’s rumpled clothing, though marred with dirt stains, was expertly tailored from a fine fabric that probably cost more per-meter than all of the credits in her pocket. His shoes had lost their luster, but they were also well-made from the soles to the buckles at his ankles.
“Oh, I see,” she said and meant it.
“So, can you let me go?”
She looked to where his pulse gun was resting on the ground. “You’re not going to try to shoot me, are you?”
He groaned. “No. Even though you’ve screwed me over, shooting you wouldn’t fix it.”
There was a sincerity in his tone. Whatever had been going on between the two men, it would seem she had greatly misread the situation. Cautiously, Iza released the grip on his arm.
He hobbled over to pick up his dropped pulse gun, gripping his ribs and swearing as he went. “Months wasted. Father’s going to kill me.”
“What were you after, anyway?”
Before he could answer, her backup, Trix, arrived. Faster than Iza could see, the almost two-meter-tall brunette android clapped both hands over the young man’s ears, rendering him unconscious. He dropped the gun and fell into a crumpled heap on the ground.
“What’d you do that for?” Iza exclaimed.
“You signaled for help. He had a handgun. I deduced that the help you needed was from him. Was I incorrect in that assessment?”
Iza pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. It wasn’t worth explaining. “What took you so long? I thought you were right behind me.”
“I could not track the origin of your signal and had to perform a visual search in order to locate you. Someone is jamming all communications in and out of this vicinity. I suggest we leave immediately.”
Iza followed her toward the mouth of the alley. Trix stopped short, holding up one hand to indicate Iza needed to duck behind her.
“What’s going on?”
Trix tilted her head to one side, indicating that she was listening. “It seems someone has alerted the local Enforcers to a theft in the area. Authorities dispatched patrollers to this area to apprehend someone who fits the description of the young troublemaker.”
Iza looked back at the teenager lying in a heap on the ground. He seemed even younger with his face relaxed in unconscious sleep.
He’ll never make it with the Enforcers looking for him. She’d messed things up for the young man and felt compelled to give him a chance to set things right. “Pick up our friend. We’ll bring him back to the ship.”
“You have an odd way of making friends,” Trix replied in her monotone lilt.
“Perhaps it would be wiser to leave him here.”
“Wiser maybe, but not right. He’s hurt, and he’s in trouble.”
Trix lifted him over her shoulder with as much effort as it took most people to lift a bag of fruit.
“What are they saying he stole?” Iza asked.
“Nine thousand credits.”
“I smell a bribe.”
Trix sniffed at the air. “How do you know he didn’t steal the credits?” she asked.
“If he had nine thousand credits, he’d have spent it on a new set of clothes. Someone wants us to think he’s after the credits, but it’s something else.”
Iza rolled her eyes and huffed. “I didn’t get the chance to ask since you put him to sleep.”
“Perhaps we should explain the matter to the authorities and avoid any more misunderstandings.”
Iza ignored her, pulling out her pulse handgun from inside her jacket. “When have you ever known Enforcers to accept an explanation? We’d be scooped up and arrested just for talking to them. No, we’ll have to make a run for it,” she said while they both scanned up and down the busy boulevard for a quick exit. “Where did you park the shuttle?”
“Eighty-Fifth Street and First in the Financial District.”
That was at least ten blocks from where they stood. Enforcer patrollers in dark gray uniforms were already scouring the streets, checking identification and visitor passes. Trix would immediately draw attention running with the boy, only two centimeters shorter than herself, tossed over one shoulder.
“Can you interface with the shuttle from here and bring it to us?”
“No, not with the signal jammer blocking the connection.”
Iza glanced up and got an idea.
Many of the surrounding buildings had exterior stairs for emergency evacuations. Iza eyed the metal staircase on the nearest building to her right, which exited at street-level and wound around the building all the way up to the roof. The height of it weakened her knees.
“Let’s go up,” she suggested, already moving toward it. “We should be able to cut through the signal jammer from the higher elevation and summon our shuttle to the roof.” She pointed upward but quickly had to drop her gaze to the ground when her head started to spin. She centered herself with several slow breaths.
“Are you sure?” Trix’s slim eyebrows had drawn together in skepticism.
“I’ll be fine. Go.”
Trix nodded once and proceeded up the stairs with Iza trailing behind.
“It is a quandary that a starship captain should be afraid of heights,” the android commented.
“I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of falling to my death off flimsy stairs attached to the side of a tall building. There’s a difference.”
The stairs were more manageable than she’d feared, though she had to push herself to keep up with Trix’s determined pace. At one of the switchbacks, a wind gust lifted the back of Iza’s jacket. She pressed against the side of the building to steady herself, forcing down a wave of nauseating dizziness.
Movement on the street below caught Iza’s eye. Enforcers were swarming the street below. The patrollers pointed upward and then took defensive positions. They opened fire.
Iza ducked behind the stairs leading up to the next level. “Do you have a signal yet?” They were dangerously exposed in their position halfway up the metal stairway, but they could use their shuttle as a distraction if Trix could get it to their position.
“Negative. The jamming field is still preventing communications.”
They had no choice but to keep moving.
The stairs reverberated with the pulse shots as they climbed higher and higher. Hugging the side of the building with the curved stairs at their backs made them difficult targets for the Enforcers, but the rattling of the metal stairs dropped Iza’s heart to her belly.
Iza let out a slew of curses. They were almost to the top now and, inevitably, the Guard would be waiting. It didn’t take a genius to see they were trapped. Without any idea of what they might have to face, Iza debated whether to grab her sidearm or keep two hands on the railings as she climbed. When another gust of wind whipped under her jacket, knocking her against the side of the building, she made up her mind; she needed to steady herself more than return fire.
The edge of the roof was in sight when Trix paused, turning her head to speak to Iza. “I have a signal. Shuttle ETA in two minutes,” she stated.
“Great. Any ideas on how we’re going to get to it?”
Trix remained silent.
“We’re going to need a diversion. Can you handle that?”
Trix cleared the roof’s edge first, still carrying the unconscious young man.
“Halt and identify yourselves,” a deep male voice called out.
The absence of pulsefire meant the Enforcers wanted them conscious for questioning. It was a good sign. If they’d wanted them dead, they could have taken out Trix immediately.
Iza prepared to climb over the edge, keeping her hands up. “We’ve got injured!”
Unhurried, Iza took in the scene as she threw her left leg over the rail. Three patio tables were at the center of the rooftop and a green hedge lined the perimeter below the metal railing. A one-story-tall structure on the left of the roof deck housed a small elevator, the only means of accessing the space. Six armed Enforcers were already waiting for them. Behind the patrollers, Iza could just make out the lit numbers indicating the elevator was ascending from the fifth floor, likely carrying reinforcements.
“You have five seconds to identify yourselves.” The lead officer, like the others, wore a full-face shield and body armor.
The semicircle of Enforcers around him had pulse rifles aimed at Iza and Trix. They were expecting resistance, and Iza didn’t want to disappoint. She nodded to Trix, who lowered the young man to the ground and then imitated Iza’s stance, raising both hands.
“Officers, there’s been some kind of mistake,” Iza said. She attempted to smile in the way obnoxious people were known to do on Kinterin.
Iza watched the elevator behind them as it ascended toward the roof.
Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen.
“There’s no mistake. You’re under arrest for aiding a known criminal.”
Iza put on her most appalled expression and looked down at the young man at their feet. “Oh, you mean him? Well, we only just met. To be honest, we didn’t even get his name.”
Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three.
The next elevator car was going to open at any second. Fortunately, their means of escape was finally in sight.
With the Enforcers’ attention on Iza, none of them noticed her small shuttle until it was crashing down on top of them. Trix directed it into a mild tailspin, knocking half of the Enforcers across the rooftop, unconscious. The rest dove for cover behind large potted shrubbery and the green hedge as the shuttle’s weapons powered up.
Trix lifted the young man over her shoulder again while remotely landing the shuttle. The side hatch slid opened and she climbed in.
Iza used her handgun to provide cover fire, aiming at the remaining patrollers. She leaped into the shuttle as the hatch started to close—only a moment before the building elevator doors opened. Another contingent of Enforcers spilled out onto the roof.
“Get us out of here, now!” Iza shouted while the hatch sealed shut behind her.
The sound of gunfire hitting the shields faded as they lifted into the atmosphere of Kinterin.
She scrambled toward the front cockpit. “Are we being followed?”
Trix was already in the pilot’s seat, ignoring the manual controls and front viewport in favor of her direct neural link. Her head tilted to one side. “No. They have ceased their pursuit.”
“Good. Set a course for Beurias.”
Iza peered down at the sleeping form of the young man, where Trix had left him in the cargo area. His features had relaxed into an attractive, though bruised, face.
“Seems our new friend made some powerful enemies. Let’s get him patched up and find out exactly why he’s so important that they’d send the Guard after him.”
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Thank you for reading this preview! You'll be able to buy the entire book on January 24th on Amazon or read it in Kindle Unlimited.
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