Ely Hale returns to the Earth with a desperate plea from his father: Take his son to Stacy Ibarra and remove the Qa'resh technology embedded in his skull before it kills him. Ely awakens to a world turned prison planet, and the Geist invaders have their own designs on the device he carries.
Only the Ibarra Crusade stands against the darkness, and they are losing the war. When the Crusade's few remaining agents learn of Ely's return, they launch a final, desperate attempt to steal him off world and out of the Geist's clutches.
Ely isn't a warrior, but the Hale name comes with high expectations…and carries hope for all of humanity.
The Ember War Saga continues with this first novel in the Ibarra Crusade. Military science fiction at its finest with all the mech combat, space marines and pulse pounding battles that Richard Fox is famous for. Read Ashes Fall now!
"All of the action and intensity that I love from the Ember War universe on full blast, I can't wait for the next one!"– Amazon review
"As per usual, Mr Fox doesn't disappoint! This continues the Ember Wars series with Armor (yes... ARMOR!), old and new heros and memorable characters. Certainly a must-read!"– Amazon review
A breach in space-time ripped through the void, blossoming into a white plane with frayed edges of immaterial smoke. The wormhole sputtered like a dying light before glaring brighter than distant Sol for a split second. The Crucible gateway writhed like it was in pain, the building-sized thorns roiling against each other as it fought to maintain the wormhole.
And as quickly as the rupture formed…it snapped out of existence. At the center of the ring formed by the Crucible was a single life pod. It hung motionless for a few heartbeats, then began tumbling.
Distress beacons activated, broadcasting a single name over and over again.
"I know it's a life pod." Commander Terry of the Orbital Guard wiped the back of his hand across his sweaty forehead. He huddled over a workstation in the Crucible's central control room as a pair of nervous techs stared into a holo screen with him at the pod in the center of the great crown of thorns over Ceres, Earth's new moon.
"I can see it's a goddamn life pod." Terry pointed an accusatory finger at the holo. "What I want to know is how the damn thing broke through all our security measures to get here. The boss is going to be asking these exact same questions with a hell of a lot less patience and more volume than I am, so get me some goddamn answers!"
"There must've been some sort of a tripwire protocol buried deep in the mainframe," one of the techs said, her lips still moving even when words weren't coming out. "This whole thing is still Xaros tech, after all. We know how to use it, not how it all works. Sir, you don't think we'll be sanctioned for this, do you?" She put her hand over her mouth.
A silence fell over the control room. Rows of workstations arrayed into stacked rings formed a coliseum around a slightly raised dais at the center of the room. The control center was built for the alien—and now extinct—Xaros. Humanity had bolted on their own comforts and systems, but the room still had a creepy quality that made Terry's skin crawl even after years assigned to this shift. Techs and security guards eyed the exits.
"Everyone," Terry said, raising his arms. He pointed at the two guards flanking the main doorway and wagged his finger back and forth. The guards stepped shoulder to shoulder to block any egress. "Everyone just stay calm. It's one unscheduled arrival. That's all. Not like a rebel fleet's snuck under our nose."
He leaned back over the holo.
"What's the next 'hole? Refugee transfer from Centauri in an hour? Delay it. If there's so much as a stray graviton or a butterfly flutter in the quantum foam, you blow the charges on thorns alpha nine and epsilon four," Terry said. "Nothing else comes through. Not even if it's got gold clearance. Understand?"
"Sir, we throw a wrench in the transfer schedule and it'll jam up traffic for days," a tech said. "And if we interfere with gold clearance—"
"All our asses are on the line, I get it." Terry stood and crossed his arms. "We need to prove to the Commissars that we're acting out of an abundance of caution—"
A long beep emanated from a nearby workstation.
"Watch Commander," said a blond woman raising her hand, "there's a life sign coming from the pod. Just one, but the scans are coming back…there's older Terran Union tech there and something alien not in the database."
"This shift's just getting better and better, isn't it?" Terry flopped his hands against his sides. "Any idea what it is, Masha?"
He went to her station and ran a hand along her shoulders.
"There are two very distinct anomalous readings," she said. "One I've never seen before but—oh no!" Her hands snapped away from the controls as the screen went berserk with static and code lines written with jagged runes.
"Shit. Shit! What did you do?" Terry looked over his shoulder to the exit.
"I didn't do anything. Passive scanners hit traffic without gold clearance. It's standard operating procedure," she said.
The holo tank in the center of the room shifted into a man's head and shoulders. The face was a chrome mask of flat features. He turned around slowly then focused on the watch officer.
"Ceres Crucible…explain." The voice was low and reverberated with malice.
"Com—Commissar Nakir," Terry said, swallowing hard through a dry throat. "We've had an anomaly. Nothing we can't handle. I wasn't even going to alert my security forces. Just a small…pod. Is all."
"From where?" The chrome face tilted to one side ever so slightly.
"From…where?" Terry snapped his gaze to the two technicians. They both shook their heads quickly.
"That's part of the anomaly." Terry smiled. "The other end of the wormhole wasn't from the Mars Crucible. The rest of the network is still off-line, has been since the liberation. A gate-to-gate transfer shouldn't be possible and our disruption field still extends—"
"Secure the anomaly. It is of immediate interest to my master. We will arrive shortly to exam it. You will be there. Nakir out."
The holo field disassembled back into the local space over and around Ceres.
"Have the tenders move the pod into bay 37 and then lock down the entire node," Terry announced. "Move, people. We've got VIPs coming."
He went back to Masha's screen and jabbed at the keys. "What? What the hell are they so interested in?" he asked. "There's got to be something…"
"Sorry, they wiped my cache when they cut in," Masha said, "but I caught a glimpse at the transponder signal. You remember the Christophorous?"
"The big colony mission to Terra Nova. Back during the Ember War. We never heard from it or the follow-on mission," Masha whispered.
"This might save my ass. Our ass."
"Oh good, because I got what you were asking for." She tapped a pocket and a small case within, then gave his thigh a quick pinch.
"I'm definitely going to need it. You're my girl." He squeezed her shoulder and winked at her before he made for the exit.
Masha waited for him to leave before she reached under the workstation and palmed a small square of plastic. The scraper went into a hard-to-spot slot on the emergency hood strapped to her thigh and she brushed fingertips over her temple to hide a drop of sweat. The scraper recorded all the data that passed through her station, but she'd have to tease out the last few seconds later to know exactly what triggered the Commissar's attention.
"Terra Nova," she muttered. "Terra Nova…curious."