The third book in the Verity Chronicles co-authored by T.S. Valmond and A.K. DuBoff is almost here! "On the Run" continues the adventures of Iza and crew as they attempt to stay ahead of Victor Arvonen's hands while trying to get Joe back from his exile to Earth.
About the Book
Sometimes the past is best left buried.
Breaking the rules got Joe Anderson kicked out of the TSS and shipped back to his primitive home planet, Earth. Captain Iza Sundari is left on the Verity, struggling to keep the crew together.
When the environment of an outer colony planet begins mysteriously transforming, Iza and her crew are faced with a puzzle that only they can solve. Unfortunately, the mission soon puts them on the radar of the TSS—but Iza’s learned a thing or two about how to circumvent the law.
To avoid capture and find Joe, Iza will have to come to terms with her family history to save her future. If she fails, not only will Iza lose any hope of reuniting with Joe, but she’ll ignite a galactic war.
On the Run will be released on October 23rd!
Victor Arvonen stood with his fists clenched and breath held, praying to the stars that the nebula would be enough to hide them from the TSS ship scanning the area.
They’d been jumping between remote planets and nebulous clouds since their unfortunate incident with the Verity, when all of his careful plans had suffered an unfortunate setback. Captain Iza Sundari, the key to using the Gate, was also an unbearable nuisance. She’d almost ruined everything. If it hadn’t been for his forward-thinking guard, they’d have been captured by the bumbling Enforcers. He needed Iza to work with him willingly if they were going to make any progress, but an alliance was impossible so long as she was aligned with his wayward son.
“They’re moving off, sir,” the helm officer reported.
Victor breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Keep a close eye on them and alert me immediately if you see any more Agents or Enforcers nearby.”
He took his seat at the center of the flight deck, trying to focus on the sights outside the viewport rather than the interior of his once-glorious ship. Since the attack on the Arvonen One, the ship had been in a constant state of disrepair. Exposed wiring and damaged bulkheads peppered the ship like they’d been in the middle of a warzone. Those bandits, with the help of his youngest son, had broken through the ship’s defenses and pulled Iza and the sphere from his grasp. Victor was determined to not let it happen a second time.
“Sir?” The mousy woman at the communications station raised her hand as if she were a child in school.
He gritted his teeth to keep from roaring at her. The last time, it had only made her timidity worse. If she wasn’t the best communications specialist he could find, he’d have thrown her out the airlock ages ago. “What is it?”
“It’s the resonance signal—the one we’ve been searching for. I think I found it.”
Victor crossed the flight deck in three strides and leaned over her chair to stare at the console. “Where?”
“Here.” She indicated the position on a holographic map.
The planet was nothing remarkable on its own, but Victor admired the small, brown world like it held the greatest riches in the galaxy. In many ways, it might. They’d been searching for months, hoping to find additional evidence of the alien tech that was so critical to his plan. Now, for the first time since his run-in with the Verity, had had a solid lead on a new artifact.
“When did the signal appear?”
“A few moments ago. One minute, nothing. Then, all of a sudden, it was there.”
They had no time to waste. Few others would know what it was, but it would no doubt attract attention. “Helm, how long until we can reach the coordinates of that signal?” Victor asked.
“If we follow a covert path to the destination, avoiding the TSS patrols, it will take at least eight hours.”
He frowned. “How long if we take the direct path?”
“Make it happen.”
The helm officer shifted in his seat. “Sir, with the TSS in the area, I don’t recommend—”
“Circumvent them! Do what you have to do,” Victor roared, cutting him off. “I want to get to that artifact before anyone else does. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” the crewmembers on the flight deck said in unison.
Victor snapped a finger. “Bring me the digger.”
Several minutes later, a guard returned with Raquel Calveras. Calm and confident as always, she strode in with her blonde hair loosely tied and draped over one shoulder of her lab coat. Had Victor been a younger man, he might have entertained thoughts of testing their DNA for compatibility. A successful pairing between them would bear him tall, intelligent children. Maybe they wouldn’t be such a disappointment as Devyn.
“We’ve found a signal,” he told her without preamble.
“Really?” Raquel’s ocean-blue eyes lit up. She stepped over to the console to verify the signal as he had. “This may be the break we’ve been waiting for.”
“Indeed. It’s far stronger than the signal we observed with the previous artifact.”
The side of her mouth lifted. “Is that so? Where is it?”
“It’s a place I believe you know well. Uephus.”
She faltered the slightest measure. “I see.”
“I thought you’d be excited,” Victor said. “Some might consider it quite an honor to have their homeworld play such a pivotal role in future history.”
“Of course. It’s just that we were there not that long ago, so we should have picked up something then.” She studied the information on the screen for herself, composing her face. “Based on these readings, a portal must already be active. A big one. But who opened it?”
“Any chance it’s your Verity friends?”
Her eyebrows furrowed and her lips drew into a pout. “No, I doubt it. They can’t have gotten the other artifact back from the TSS, and this is the first evidence we’ve seen of another.”
He smiled. “Then the only reasonable explanation is that the creators have decided to finally make contact.”
She took a slow breath. “I know we’ve been hoping beyond hope for exactly this, but I can’t help wondering what we’re going to encounter when we do meet them. It would be wise to be prepared for anything.”
“Oh, my dear, I am.”
She nodded. “Of course. And I stand ready to assist.”
“Where are we on the DNA sequence?” Victor asked.
“The synthetic process is lengthy and complex. The scientists we have left aren’t experts in this field. Their limited knowledge of the exact process is slowing us down.”
“That is unfortunate. Have we found anyone with a genetic match?”
“No. And considering Iza was orphaned at such a young age, it’s not surprising.”
“Keep looking. Iza Sundari can’t be the only one. She’s connected to the artifacts, and I want to know why.”
— — —
Iza lay beneath the console of her old shuttle, mumbling curses as she beat the underside with a wrench. The interior wires spilled out in a rainbow of colors to either side of her face. She groaned, slamming her foot down on the floor.
I can’t deal with this right now. She pulled herself out and stormed off the shuttle into the Verity’s cargo hold, where Trix stood staring out one of the viewports. Today she wore her blue and white jumper, and she’d pulled the perfect waves of brown hair together and bound it at the back of her neck so it hung between her shoulder blades.
“You need assistance,” Trix said without turning. The Lynaedan android’s voice was monotone and matter-of-fact by choice.
“No, I don’t.”
Iza kicked at an empty crate and watched it fall to the floor, where her dog Atano moved in for the kill, barking with excitement as if it were a game. Iza wiped her sweaty brow with the back of one hand, brushing aside the stray curls that refused to stay off of her face.
“What are you doing, hovering out here, anyway? Waiting for me to fail?”
“I was thinking.”
Iza moved behind Trix to peer out the viewport, straining to see over the android’s broad shoulders. Trix had changed since her encounter with the alien virus. She’d softened and become more reflective. Meditation wasn’t something she used to do. Trix seemed determined to double her efforts to be more like her organic companions.
“What are you thinking about?” Iza asked.
“I am contemplating the quantity of dying stars between us and Lynaeda. At the same time, I am monitoring the ship’s systems for any abnormalities, and I found there is a small leak in one of our intake lines, which I will correct. In addition, I am making slight course corrections in our trajectory to avoid debris from a comet that passed through this space sixty-eight minutes ago.”
Iza peered up at her, waiting for her to get the point.
“You did not want that much detail into my thought process, only why I was looking out at the stars.”
“It’s fine. If I’m not used to your quirks by now, I never will be.”
“I believe we should discuss the Joe Anderson situation.”
Classic Trix non-segue. No way I’m getting baited. Iza cleared her throat and headed back to the shuttle. As much as she didn’t want to work on the repairs before the next job, she’d rather suffer through that than discuss Joe. It was painful enough to think about him without others making their own observations.
Against Iza’s wishes, Trix followed her over to the shuttle. “It has been exactly three months, two days, and seven hours since he was taken into Enforcer custody and turned over to the TSS.”
Iza stopped short. Has the eternity since our last kiss only been three months? Her restless nights often contained scattered images of her tearful goodbye. By now, he’d been sent to Earth on the other side of the Taran Empire.
“We should be working on a way to retrieve him as soon as possible,” Trix said as she took two steps to stand in front of Iza.
“Why is that?” Iza asked, forced to look up at her.
“You are adversely affected by his absence.”
It doesn’t matter how I feel. A rescue attempt so close to TSS Headquarters was risky under the best circumstances, and they were already on the TSS’ watch list. Even so, she’d heard from almost everyone individually about their desires to figure out a way to bring Joe back. It was no surprise Trix had a reason of her own.
It also wasn’t surprising that Trix’s motivations were tied to ensuring Iza’s happiness; she’d always been Iza’s greatest supporter. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine.”
“To the contrary, in the last three months, you have not slept a full night, waking up either screaming or crying.”
“Have you been spying on me?”
Trix ignored the question continuing in her evaluation of Iza’s ‘adverse effects’. “You have lost almost twenty pounds due to lack of appetite and have visited the gym less than seven times total.”
“That has nothing to do with him,” Iza said, shaking her head and reaching for the necklace around her neck. “I have a lot of things on my mind.”
“Not only that, you have been short-tempered with everyone and avoid sitting down to eat with the rest of the crew.”
“Personal choice,” Iza grumbled as she climbed back into the shuttle. The mess of wires made her want to turn back around again.
Trix followed her inside, preventing her escape. “You insist on making repairs on your own instead of allowing the crew to help you.”
“I like doing things on my own. You never had a problem with it before.”
Trix moved to the console and handled the wires with care while she sorted them returning them in neat bundles to their correct locations.
Iza crossed her arms and silently watched the android work, not sure how to reply to Trix’s assessment of her mental state. She was probably correct, but Iza didn’t want to get overly analytical about herself. She knew she missed Joe. She cared about him, deeply. But none of that changed the fact that she had her own problems to deal with before she could think about rescuing him from the primitive planet where he’d been banished.
Atano, having finished his morning explorations, bounded to Iza’s side, rubbing his white fur over her calves. Her black pants collected the short hairs, and she half-heartedly brushed them off. They always proved harder to get off than she’d have thought possible and clung to the oddest of places. She’d found two wayward strands just that morning woven into her braid.
Trix completed putting the shuttle’s innards back in order and stood up to face her. She picked up right where she’d left off with their conversation, “Most of your time is spent either here on the flight deck or locked in your cabin avoiding everyone on board other than Atano.”
Iza sighed. “Atano’s a good listener, and he doesn’t bother me with conversations about things that can’t be changed.”
He leaped up at his name and danced in front of her until she bent down to scratch behind his ears, prompting him to rub against her pants again.
“Speaking of the flight deck, it’s time one of us was up there.” Iza gave Trix her most intimidating glare.
Trix stared back at her, unblinking.
Iza huffed out a breath. “Fine, I’ll go.”
The flight deck wasn’t as empty as Iza had expected. Braedon sat at the helm, biting his lip as he doodled on his tablet. His wavy chestnut hair had grown unruly, falling into his eyes. Cierra was bent beside him, her tight curls bound on top of her head with loose tendrils falling in a cascade to frame her face.
When she spotted Iza, Cierra gracefully turned toward her, unsuccessfully trying to use her near to see-through sage-green shift to hide the hydroponic plant that she’d tucked next to Braedon’s chair.
Iza usually made an ongoing point to warn her about the dangers of walking barefoot around the ship, but today she shrugged it off, focusing on the more important matter. She pointed at the plant. “No. I said no plants on the flight deck, and I meant it.”
“Joe said that sometimes you say things you don’t really mean.” Cierra’s silky tones grated on Iza’s nerves. Her gray eyes never shifted from Iza’s face as her lips curled into a measured smile. Even with no makeup, the girl had the best skin in the Taran Empire.
“I don’t care what Joe said. Get that green off my flight deck or I’ll be shoving it down your throat.”
“Speaking of Joe, when are we going to pick him up?” Braedon asked. “It feels like it’s been long enough––hasn’t it been long enough? The TSS hasn’t been around in months, and I haven’t even seen an Enforcer ship come up on our display in weeks. I think we could make the attempt. I know it won’t be easy, but I can’t be the only one thinking it.”
Is this a coordinated assault? Iza groaned. “No. Not this again.”
He whirled around in his seat, revealing an expensive navy shirt and over-styled pants like something out of the Sensationals’ Rich and Famous fashion feature. “I mean it’s been three months and no word,” he continued. “I’m sure he’s suffered enough on Earth. Besides, if he were here, we wouldn’t have had half the trouble we did on that last job.”
Iza threw her arms up in the air, letting them slap against her thighs before circling the room. “Everyone wants to eat, but no one wants to do the work it takes to get it. You all want a free place to sleep, but no one wants to put in the time on repairs. Everybody wants Joe back, but no one has any bright ideas on how to do it.”
“We could do what we normally do—just take him,” Cierra said as she lifted one perfectly arched black eyebrow.
Iza met Cierra’s gaze, glancing down at the plant in her hands and then back up. “Still here, are you?”
“She’s not wrong,” Braedon said. “It wouldn’t exactly be the first time we’ve taken something, or someone, for that matter. Remember those scientists my dad nabbed? Wacky fun.” He chuckled to himself.
It was easy for some highborn to say, never having to want for anything. You can take the boy out of the dynasty, but you can’t take the dynasty out of the boy. She knew Braedon had come a long way since they’d first met, but he was still prone to wishful thinking and a desire for instant gratification. Not so unlike his father. Victor Arvonen’s quest for power had forced them into far too many close calls. Though rescuing those scientists had gotten her a pet. She glanced down to her left where Atano sat at attention awaiting orders; he was the only one smart enough to be quiet.
“Am I the only one with brains this morning?” Iza asked. She looked at each of them in turn, giving them each a chance to respond. When neither answered, she continued. “The only reason the Tararian Selective Service agreed to let us go on our merry way is because we put Joe in our rearview. If we don’t keep our noses out of trouble, and they get a whiff of it, they’ll confiscate our independent jump drive and haul us all to a TSS holding cell faster than you can say, ‘Joe I miss your—”
The doors to the flight deck slid open and Trix entered, giving Iza a quizzical look.
“—‘face’,” Iza concluded.
Braedon and Cierra exchanged a knowing glance. “Uh huh,” he said.
Trix tilted her head. “Have you all been attempting to convince Iza to listen to reason so we can rescue Joe?”
“Yep. Still working at it,” Braedon replied, swiveling back and forth in his seat. “She’s a stubborn one.”
Iza placed her hand on Trix’s shoulder. Standing this close, she could see the circuits hiding in her iris. “We can’t go back for him, not even if we wanted to.”
Trix looked down at Iza sadly. “You have never been in as good of spirits as you were when he was here. I fear that you will regret this choice.”
“Agreed,” Cierra said.
“I hate to say it, Iz, but it’s true. You’ve been more volatile lately. If you ask me—”
“I didn’t,” Iza cut in. “It wasn’t my choice, remember? He’s the one who made the deal. I had nothing to do with it.”
“Perhaps if you told everyone that your engagement to Karter was a ruse, it would make you feel better.” Trix held her expression sincere and neutral.
“It’s not, and it never was a ruse,” Karter said as he stepped onto the flight deck, taking advantage of the open doors that hadn’t been closed after Trix entered.
“What did I tell you about barging in here uninvited?” Iza clenched her teeth, trying not to bite off her tongue in the process.
“What, and miss the party?” At Iza’s glare, Karter held up his well-manicured hands in defense. “I believe you said something about ‘emergencies only’.” Fabricating such a situation was probably what he’d been doing back in his quarters when he was supposed to be figuring out how to get a new fiancée.
Karter Hyttinen was a sleaze of the highest order, and he’d somehow weaseled his way on her ship as a long-term passenger. Despite his lean physique, even brown features, and dynastic heritage, he was more trouble than he was worth. She determined a long time ago it was time to drop him off. The engagement had been made in haste to save her crew, but it wasn’t meant to be a lasting bond.
“And what is this emergency?” The building frustration pressed against Iza’s ribs. She had to focus on her breathing to calm herself down.
“I wanted to request a short visit to Beurias. I have some business to attend to there.”
“If we go back to Beurias, you’re getting off—permanently.”
Karter stroked his chin, as if debating. He’d already made his intentions clear; he was going to try to wait out the contract forcing her to marry him, despite their mutual lack of love. Lower Dynasty heirs and their politics were enough to give Iza a raging headache.
“I need to formalize a few deals, and they require my presence. It shouldn’t take long. We can arrange it for a time that coincides with one of your jobs, if you like. I only wanted to bring it to your attention.”
“So, not an emergency at all.” Iza waved him away.
“Captain?” Braedon’s tone had turned all business.
“I’m picking up a general distress call for any ships in the vicinity,” he said.
Iza moved back to the center of the flight deck. “Pull up the message.”
The stars in the viewport morphed into a white background, where a woman with smooth black hair and darting black eyes faced the camera.
“My name is Luxi Song. I don’t know if this is going to reach anyone, but if you’re in the area of Uephus and receiving this message, then you’re close enough. Something has gone terribly wrong here, and we need your immediate assistance. Please, it concerns all life as we know it.”
The looped message continued until Iza ordered it to stop.
“Locking in coordinates and preparing to jump,” Braedon said as his hands flew over the smooth console.
“That’s not your decision to make!” Iza protested. “What makes you think we can do anything to help them, anyway?”
“We have the Verity, and we may be the only ones close enough to do anything. Besides, it’s not that far off our current course.” His hands hesitated over the console waiting, for her go-ahead.
Iza wasn’t so sure. The distress call was far too vague. Anything concerning ‘all life’ sounded way beyond their capabilities to address.
“We might be their only hope,” Cierra added.
Iza didn’t like it. The last thing she wanted to be was anyone’s only hope. Yet, all of her crewmembers’ gazes were fixed on her expectantly. She sighed; it was useless to argue.
“Fine, set a course for Uephus. I guess we’re going to play the heroes.”
- - -
Thank you for reading this preview! You'll be able to buy the entire book on October 23rd on Amazon or read it in Kindle Unlimited.
Thoughts? Reactions? Comment below!